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CRIMINAL JUSTICE wildpixel / iStock

Phoenix ’ s Making rehab work report looked at the state of residential treatment provision in England . Liam Ward explores the benefits residential can offer to people with experience of the criminal justice system


The experiences of people involved with substances , crime and the justice system are complicated . Drug offences accounted for 16 per cent of all prison sentences in the UK in 2021 , and this figure does not account for the number of violent or acquisitive crimes where substances were involved . There is also growing concern for people exposed to substances during a custodial sentence , with UK government statistics showing that between 2014 and 2019 the proportion of people who developed a drug problem while in custody doubled from 8 per cent to 15 per cent .

At Phoenix Futures our residential treatment services welcome residents directly from prison and many more who have had lived experience of the justice system in their past . To even talk about crime can feed into a stigmatising narrative that some people in society use against our residents , and so some of our current residents were kind enough to share their personal experiences to help us explore these complex issues .
CHELSEA Chelsea began taking drugs at 15 , and by age 19 had received her first prison sentence . The following 20 years she described as a ‘ revolving door ’, only staying out of prison for a few months at a time before returning . She spoke of the complicated relationship she had with prison . ‘ Sometimes it was a relief to go back ,’ she said . ‘ Because I couldn ’ t get to rehab , I treated prison like a rehab . I knew I could get drugs in there if I wanted to , but I never chased it . I was actually clean when I was in there , I did well . Whenever I came out , my life was chaos .’
I asked whether prison had helped prepare Chelsea for rehab in any way , but she was keen to emphasise the vast difference between the two settings . ‘ I thrived on the structure , the routine , the discipline in jail , but in there nothing is expected of you . It ’ s not like being in rehab , where from the moment you wake up you have to think about how you feel and how you act . In jail you have to put up a front and not let your guard down in order to protect yourself .’
KELLY Kelly had a similar experience , using heroin at 14 and continuing until the day her son was born . Her first prison sentence came at age 17 , and a further thirteen periods of imprisonment followed . ‘ In prison I had walls and defences up . I wouldn ’ t stop and think ,’ she said . ‘ In there you ’ re surrounded by people who don ’ t want to change . I wasn ’ t happy in that life , but you end up just accepting it .’