DDN March 2021 March 2021 | Page 13



Helena Gosling shares insights from a prison-based therapeutic community

As an academic with

a particular interest in the role of drug treatment in criminal justice settings , I ’ ve been intrigued by the prison-based hierarchical therapeutic community ( TC ) for more than a decade . My endeavour to understand these programmes led me to the work of Phoenix Futures , who have a history of providing drug treatment in criminal justice settings – with particular expertise in the provision of prison-based TCs – and a proven track record of working alongside people who have experience of the criminal justice system .
Generally speaking , prisonbased TCs are designed to provide intense psycho-social support for people who have a history of substance use alongside experience of multiple deprivation and disadvantage . Participants ( typically referred to as residents ) are housed separately from the wider prison population and immersed in treatment 24 hours per day , seven days a week . Although somewhat constrained by safety requirements , prison-based TCs strive to promote personal growth among
A reception area for newly-arrived prisoners . Colin McPherson / Alamy
residents through the provision of a safe environment built upon principles of responsibility , care and compassion .
I am delighted to announce that Phoenix Futures and I are now working together to create a more symbiotic relationship between research and practice . As part of this , I have recently completed an evaluation of a prison-based TC in the north-west of England which created a unique window of opportunity for us to learn from a programme that had been in operation for more than 20 years . Alongside an analysis of programmatic data , interviews with 14 previous practitioners and 18 previous residents took place over a 12-month period . Although lacking in generalisability , the findings did generate some interesting food for thought – particularly around the idea of ‘ capital ’.
Generally speaking , the term capital can be used when referring to the resources , skills and / or assets that an individual can draw
on for a given purpose or situation . Although the notion of capital is frequently cited in recovery literature , little attention has been invested in its role in prison-based TCs . Findings from the evaluation suggest that residents go through a process of capital transfer during their time in treatment : required to relinquish ‘ prison capital ’ while simultaneously attaining ‘ recovery capital .’ In doing so , residents experience a sense of liminality – described by numerous residents as a feeling that one is torn between two worlds . As one of them said , ‘ I didn ’ t have the evidence that I was a good person , but the TC gave me a chance to make decisions and change the narrative .’
This sense of liminality was heightened during conversations about release into the wider community , with many residents expressing concern about the lack of capital available to people who have experience of the criminal justice system alongside issues with substance use . Where they can be found , prison-based TCs provide a powerful example of the possibilities of shared landscape working between criminal justice settings and drug treatment providers . I ’ m not suggesting that prison-based TCs are some kind of custodial utopia but I am suggesting that the sense of dignity , respect and shared interest in the common good provides a fertile ground for residents to somehow ‘ do ’ and ‘ feel ’ better during their programme .
This resonates with me as I write this piece , reflecting on recent ministerial announcements to increase funding to ‘ cut crime and protect people from the scourge of illegal drugs ’. I wonder whether the government could do better by actually listening to the experiences of those who are
‘ I wonder whether the government could do better by actually listening to the experiences of those who are navigating multiple recoveries – from substance use , crime , disadvantage and deprivation , to name just a few .’
navigating multiple recoveries – from substance use , crime , disadvantage and deprivation , to name just a few .
Criminal justice and drug treatment are , and always will be , inextricably linked – perhaps more so than we realise . But issues of crime and substance use are not exclusive to the criminal justice system or drug treatment sector . They are social issues which require socially-just responses that include but are not limited to support , recognition and indeed capital from other areas of social policy . Rather than reinventing the wheel and disseminating tired political rhetoric , it ’ s time for the government to work upstream with communities , enhancing resources and opportunities , so that prison doesn ’ t have to become part of the treatment equation in the first place .
Dr Helena Gosling is senior lecturer in criminal justice at Liverpool John Moores University