Benjamin John / Alamy
’ ve been inspecting probation services across England and Wales for the past two years . Although I ’ m not new to the criminal justice sector , I ’ m still struck by the scale of drug use and drugrelated offending among people on probation – and the impact of drugs on so many lives .
The organisation that I head up – Her Majesty ’ s Inspectorate of Probation – has taken a closer look at how probation services work with individuals who use illegal substances . There were pockets of good practice but , overall , the current system is not working well and this inspection has found the service provided to be poor ( see news , page 5 ).
Drugs are a driver of half of all acquisitive crime , and drug-related offending costs the public purse an estimated £ 9bn a year . Drugrelated deaths are at record levels . Yet the criminal justice system lacks the focus and funding to tackle this problem . National leadership and direction is much needed , and government departments and local health and justice services need to work more closely together . The Probation Service manages nearly 156,000 people in the community – but it doesn ’ t record how many of these people are dependent on class A drugs , are in treatment or might benefit from a referral to a specialist drugs agency .
Judges told us that probation court teams weren ’ t making enough recommendations for a treatment order . Without this basic data , how can the Probation Service understand the extent of
The Probation Service is failing people with drug issues , says chief inspector of probation Justin Russell
the issue and communicate those requirements to local public health colleagues who are commissioning these services for the wider community ?
WITHERED ON THE VINE Over 40 per cent of the thousands of probation cases we assessed in our local inspections are recorded as having some sort of substance misuse issue . If representative of the caseload as a whole that suggests that more than 75,000 people on probation will have one too . Yet fewer than 4,500 drug rehabilitation
' Judges told us that probation court teams weren ’ t making enough recommendations for a treatment order . Without this basic data , how can the Probation Service understand the extent of the issue and communicate those requirements to local public health colleagues .' requirements were issued by the courts in 2020 – 75 per cent less than in 2008 – and only half of these were completed . Criminal justice programmes and structures that were in place to identify and refer individuals for treatment have withered on the vine .
We spoke to a sample of people on probation with substance misuse issues . Some reported positive encounters with probation practitioners who provided support and direction . One individual told us their practitioner ‘ doesn ’ t tell me what to do , she just guides me down the right path , but I always have a say in what services I think will be best for me ’. Others reported feeling ‘ done to ’ rather than engaged in their own supervision . Two-thirds of the probation practitioners that we interviewed for this inspection told us they needed more training on the impact of drugs . They also wanted to know how best to support individuals with trauma and recovery . Time can be an issue too . For several years , the inspectorate has reported on
the unacceptable workloads faced by many probation practitioners – some have in excess of 70 cases .
KNOWLEDGE , SKILLS , TIME Probation practitioners need the knowledge , skills and time to do their work properly : to keep on top of drugs trends and treatments ; to assess the vulnerability of people who take drugs as well as the risk they could pose to others ; to make calls to the police or children ’ s services to share intelligence . Regular drug testing is also needed to provide independent evidence of progress for the courts and probation staff ( and to provide an incentive for people on probation to stay off drugs too ). Of the sample of 60 cases involving problematic drug users that we inspected , only ten had received any sort of drug testing – even where this was required by the courts .
Practitioners need to build a rapport with the people they supervise to understand how and why they offended , and what support they need to move towards
8 • DRINK AND DRUGS NEWS • SEPTEMBER 2021 WWW . DRINKANDDRUGSNEWS . COM