Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research


profile image for Professor Alex Stevens

Professor Alex Stevens

Professor in Criminal Justice and Deputy Head of School (Medway)

School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research

Room G2-08
Gillingham Building
Chatham Maritime
Kent ME4 4AG


I am Professor in Criminal Justice and Deputy Head of the University of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research at the Medway campus. I am a member of the UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (the independent body which advises ministers on the classification of illicit drugs). I am also a member of the board of the International Society of the Study of Drug Policy.

I have worked on issues of drugs, crime and health in the voluntary sector, as an academic researcher and as an adviser to the UK government.

I have published extensively on these issues, with a focus on the sociology of drugs and crime, on risk behaviours by young people, on the use of evidence in policy and on quasi-compulsory drug treatment. My published worked includes a book on Drugs, Crime and Public Health, studies of decriminalisation of drugs in Portugal, of the right to use drugs, on gangs and on the ethnography of policy making.

My interest in drugs and crime dates back to my time working with UK charity Prisoners Abroad, which provides advice and information to British prisoners held in foreign prisons, and as European project manager and coordinator of the European Network of Drug and HIV/AIDS Services in Prison for Cranstoun Drugs Services.

I also led QCT Europe, a European-funded, six-country research project on treatment for drug dependent offenders, and a project called “Early Exit” on early retention in drug treatment for the Department for Health.

I have a PhD in Social Policy from the University of Kent, an MA in Socio-Legal Studies from the University of Sheffield and a BA in French (in the School of European Studies) from the University of Sussex.

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Also view these in the Kent Academic Repository

    Stevens, Alex and Measham, F. (2014) The 'drug policy ratchet': Why do sanctions for new psychoactive drugs typically only go up? Addiction. ISSN 0965-2140. (in press)


    It has been much more common for drugs to be subjected to tighter rather than looser control as drugs and evidence about their effects have has emerged. We argue that there is in place a drug policy ratchet which subjects new psychoactive substances (NPS) to increasing control through the continuation of historical patterns that involve the attribution to emerging drugs of guilt by three different kinds of association: guilt by deviant association; guilt by lunatic association; and guilt by molecular association. We use our contemporary ethnographic experience of drug policy-making to show how these processes continue to be applied to policy on NPS, alongside selective, narrative use of evidence and the 'silent silencing' by absorption of the concept of evidence-based policy. We show that the drug policy ratchet cannot be justified as an example of the precautionary principle in action, as this principle is itself not rationally justified. We conclude that recognition of the drug policy ratchet and its mechanisms may help researchers and policy-makers to improve regulation of NPS.

    Densley, James A. and Stevens, Alex (2014) 'We'll show you gang': The subterranean structuration of gang life in London. Criminology and Criminal Justice, Online. ISSN 1748–8958.


    This article uses data from interviews with 69 self-described members and associates of street gangs in London to explore how young people choose their actions and construct their identities from the material and cultural resources they find in their locales. It explores ‘drift’ as a potential explanation of actions of gang members and finds it wanting. It suggests that Giddens’ concept of structuration, when combined with Matza and Sykes’ notion of subterranean traditions, offers a powerful tool for the explanation of how and why some young people in socio-economically deprived urban areas seek association with gangs through the performance of violence.

    Stevens, Alex and Coulton, Simon and O'Brien, Kate et al. (2014) RisKit: The participatory development and observational evaluation of a multi-component programme for adolescent risk behaviour reduction. Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, 21 (1). pp. 24-34. ISSN 0968-7637.


    Aims: to develop and observationally evaluate a multi-component programme for the reduction of risk behaviours in vulnerable adolescents. Methods: the programme was theoretically informed by Catalano and Hawkins' social development model. It was developed using a combination of participatory consultation with young people and a review of evidence reviews. The resulting programme involved screening of school pupils at ages 14-16 years to identify those at risk, inviting them to attend two generic drug and alcohol awareness sessions, and then eight targeted life skills training sessions, alongside one-to-one motivational interviews and the creation of contacts with youth services. Evaluation was carried out using qualitative methods and the quantitative analysis of timeline follow-back questionnaires on drug and alcohol use at entry, exit and six-month follow-up from 226 programme participants. Findings: qualitative data showed that the programme was feasible, acceptable and positively viewed by participants, delivery staff and school staff. The professional skills of delivery staff were important in making it feasible and acceptable. Quantitative evaluation showed significant reductions in alcohol use (as measured by percentage days abstinent and drinks per drinking day). There were also reductions in illicit drug (mostly cannabis) use, although these were not statistically significant. Conclusion: the participatory development process produced a theoretically and evidence informed programme that was highly acceptable and appreciated by its target participants. This evaluation provides evidence of potential effectiveness that is worthy of further evaluation using more rigorous scientific approaches. The RisKit programme is available for use under a Creative Commons licence. © 2014 Informa UK Ltd. All rights reserved.

    Stevens, Alex and Ritter, Alison (2013) How can and do empirical studies influence drug policies? Narratives and complexity in the use of evidence in policy making. Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, 20 (3). pp. 169-174. ISSN 0968-7637.


    Some recent contributions to debates on drug policy and the use of evidence (e.g. Henderson, 2012; Nutt, 2012) have assumed that drug policy could be improved if politicians paid more attention to scientific evidence. While not disagreeing with the broad thrust of this argument, we would like to question some of the assumptions about how evidence can and does influence policy. This was the theme of the Sixth Annual Conference of the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy (ISSDP), which was hosted by the University of Kent in Canterbury in May 2012. Papers from this conference comprise the main body of this special issue. This editorial develops some theoretical ideas concerning the policy impact of empirical research, before introducing the articles which illustrate the variety of ways that drug policy analysis can be relevant to policy making. We are specifically interested in narratives – both of and in drug policy making – and the complexity of the policy process. We argue that these render some recommendations for improving drug policy somewhat naïve. Much more attention needs to be paid to issues of problem construction, politics, ideology, power and the messy complexity of the policy process.

    Stevens, Alex and Hughes, Caitlin Elizabeth (2012) A resounding success or a disastrous failure: Re-examining the interpretation of evidence on the Portuguese decriminalisation of illicit drugs. Drug and Alcohol Review, 31 (1). pp. 101-113. ISSN 1465-3362.


    In this Harm Reduction Digest two observers and scholars of the 2001 Portuguese drug policy reform consider divergent accounts of the reform which viewed it as a ‘resounding success’ or a ‘disastrous failure’. Acknowledging from their own experience the inherent difficulties in studying drug law reform, Caitlin Hughes and Alex Stevens take the central competing claims of the protagonists and consider them against the available data.They remind us of the way all sides of the drug policy debates call upon and alternatively use or misuse ‘evidence’ to feed into discussions of the worth, efficacy and desirability of different illicit drug policies. In doing so they provide pause for thought for those of us who operate as drug policy researchers and drug policy advocates.

    Stevens, Alex (2012) The ethics and effectiveness of coerced treatment of people who use drugs. Human Rights and Drugs, 2 (1). pp. 7-16. ISSN 2046-4843.


    In the context of international debates about ways to reduce the harms related to the use of illicit drugs and their control, this article explores the specific issue of coerced treatment of people who use drugs. It uses established standards of human rights and medical ethics to judge whether it is ethical to apply either of two types of coerced treatment (compulsory treatment and quasi-compulsory treatment, or QCT) to any of three groups of drug users (non-problematic users, dependent drug users and drug dependent offenders). It argues that compulsory treatment is not ethical for any group, as it breaches the standard of informed consent. Quasicompulsory treatment (i.e. treatment that is offered as an alternative to a punishment that is itself ethically justified) may be ethical (under specified conditions) for drug dependent offenders who are facing a more restrictive penal sanction, but is not ethical for other people who use drugs. The article also briefly reviews evidence which suggests that QCT may be as effective as voluntary treatment.

    Stevens, Alex (2011) Sociological approaches to the study of drug use and policy. International Journal of Drug Policy, 22 (6). pp. 399-403. ISSN 0955-3959.


    Sociology has contributed much to the study of drug use and dependence, as numerous reviews can attest (e.g. Adrian, 2003; Allen, 2007; Bergeron, 2009; Faupel, Horowitz, & Weaver, 2004; Rhodes, 2009; Weinberg, 2011). However, the study of drug policy has often been left to economists, with assistance from operational researchers, public policy specialists, lawyers and psychologists (e.g. Boyum & Reuter, 2005; Caulkins, Tragler, & Wallner, 2009; Donohue, Ewing, & Peloquin, 2011; Kleiman, 2009; MacCoun & Reuter, 2001). As Peter Reuter recently stated, while economics has provided useful contributions to the analysis of the drug trade seen as a market, economists have too often failed to question or verify the – often grand – assumptions that they tend to bring to the study of these markets (Reuter, 2011).

    Stevens, Alex (2011) Recovery through contradiction? Criminal Justice Matters, 84 (1). pp. 20-21. ISSN 0962-7251.


    With this new drug strategy, the circle has turned. It was a Conservative government that introduced the first drug strategy, Tackling Drugs Together, in 1995. This aimed to reduce drug related crime, protect young people and reduce health harms by discouraging drug use. It was criticised at the time for having unrealistic, intangible aims and for not providing the necessary funding. New Labour’s strategies introduced increasingly specific targets and massively expanded the funding of treatment. This new Coalition strategy has no targets and provides no new funding.

    Stevens, Alex (2011) Drug policy, harm and human rights: A rationalist approach. International Journal of Drug Policy, 22 (5). pp. 399-403. ISSN 0955-3959.


    Background: It has recently been argued that drug-related harms cannot be compared, so making it impossible to choose rationally between various drug policy options. Attempts to apply international human rights law to this area are valid, but have found it difficult to overcome the problems in applying codified human rights to issues of drug policy. Method: This article applies the rationalist ethical argument of Gewirth (1978) to this issue. It outlines his argument to the ‘principle of generic consistency’ and the hierarchy of basic, nonsubtractive and additive rights that it entails. It then applies these ideas to drug policy issues, such as whether there is a right to use drugs, whether the rights of drug ‘addicts’ can be limited, and how different harms can be compared in choosing between policies. Result: There is an additive right to use drugs, but only insofar as this right does not conflict with the basic and nonsubtractive rights of others. People whose freedom to choose whether to use drugs is compromised by compulsion have a right to receive treatment. They retain enforceable duties not to inflict harms on others. Policies which reduce harms to basic and nonsubtractive rights should be pursued, even if they lead to harms to additive rights. Conclusion: There exists a sound, rational, extra-legal basis for the discussion of drug policy and related harms which enables commensurable discussion of drug policy options.

    Stevens, Alex (2011) Telling policy stories: An ethnographic study of the use of evidence in policy-making in the UK. Journal of Social Policy, 40 (2). pp. 237-256. ISSN 0047-2794.


    Based on participant observation in a team of British policy making civil servants carried out in 2009, this article examines the use that is made of evidence in making policy. It shows that these civil servants displayed a high level of commitment to the use of evidence. However, their use of evidence was hampered by the huge volume of various kinds of evidence and by the unsuitability of much academic research in answering policy questions. Faced with this deluge of inconclusive information, they used evidence to create persuasive policy stories. These stories were useful both in making acceptable policies and in advancing careers. They often involved the excision of methodological uncertainty and the use of ‘killer charts’ to boost the persuasiveness of the narrative. In telling these stories, social inequality was ‘silently silenced’ in favour of promoting policies which were ‘totemically’ tough. The article concludes that this selective, narrative use of evidence is ideological in that it supports systematically asymmetrical relations of power.

    Schaub, Michael and Stevens, Alex and Haug, Severin et al. (2011) Predictors of retention in the 'voluntary' and 'quasi-compulsory' treatment of substance dependence in Europe. European Addiction Research, 17 (2). pp. 97-105. ISSN 1022-6877.


    Background Policies and practices related to the quasi-compulsory treatment (QCT) of substance-dependent offenders are currently implemented in many countries, despite the absence of reliable knowledge about significant predictors of treatment retention. This study aimed to identify such predictors in QCT and voluntary treatment. Methods Participants were treated in one of 65 institutions in 5 European countries. They were interviewed at intake on substance use, committed crimes, perceived pressure for treatment, self-efficacy, stage of change, employment, and health-related variables. Binary logistic regression models were computed to identify predictors of treatment retention at an 18-month follow-up. Moderator analyses were computed to investigate whether these predictors vary by treatment condition (quasi-compulsory vs. voluntary). Results A higher number of working days in the previous month was positively associated with treatment retention, while use of heroin, crack, and multiple drugs, psychiatric problems in the previous month, and lifetime depression were negatively associated with treatment retention. Higher perceived medical pressure resulted in higher treatment retention rates only for participants in QCT. Conclusion Predictors of substance abuse treatment retention are quite similar across both the quasi-compulsory and voluntary treatments. Perceived medical pressure is of higher relevance than the often-believed legal pressure for treatment retention in QCT.

    Schaub, Michael and Stevens, Alex and Berto, Daniele et al. (2010) Comparing outcomes of ‘voluntary’ and ‘quasi-compulsory’ treatment of substance dependence in Europe. European Addiction Research, 16 (1). pp. 53-60. ISSN 1022-6877.


    Aim: This study evaluates quasi-compulsory drug treatment (QCT) arrangements for substance-dependent offenders receiving treatment instead of imprisonment in comparison to voluntary treatment within five European countries. Methods: Participants were interviewed with the European Addiction Severity Index, the ASI-crime module, questions on perception of pressure and self-efficacy, and the Readinessto- Change Questionnaire at treatment entry and after 6, 12, and 18 months. Results: Reductions in substance use and crime as well as improvements in health and social integration were observed in QCT and voluntary treatment groups. After controlling for various factors, subjects in the QCT and the comparison group showed similar reductions in substance use and crime over time. Study retention was comparable in both groups. Conclusion: QCT is as effective as voluntary treatment provided in the same services in reducing substance use and crime.

    Stevens, Alex and Hughes, Caitlin Elizabeth (2010) What can we learn from the Portuguese decriminalization of illicit drugs? British Journal of Criminology, 50 (6). pp. 999-1022. ISSN 0007-0955.


    The issue of decriminalizing illicit drugs is hotly debated, but is rarely subject to evidence-based analysis. This paper examines the case of Portugal, a nation that decriminalized the use and possession of all illicit drugs on 1 July 2001. Drawing upon independent evaluations and interviews conducted with 13 key stakeholders in 2007 and 2009, it critically analyses the criminal justice and health impacts against trends from neighbouring Spain and Italy. It concludes that contrary to predictions, the Portuguese decriminalization did not lead to major increases in drug use. Indeed, evidence indicates reductions in problematic use, drug-related harms and criminal justice overcrowding. The article discusses these developments in the context of drug law debates and criminological discussions on late modern governance.

    McSweeney, Tim and Stevens, Alex and Hunt, Neil et al. (2008) Drug testing and court review hearings: uses and limitations. Probation Journal, 55 (1). pp. 39-54. ISSN 0264-5505.


    The ability of the UK criminal justice system to divert drug-dependent offenders into treatment has been enhanced during recent years. Despite the rapid expansion of such coercive measures, research findings to date are equivocal about their impact. This article draws on qualitative data from in-depth interviews with professionals and those mandated to treatment by the courts to assess the uses and limitations of two defining features of court-ordered drug treatment in Britain and elsewhere – drug testing and court review hearings – as a means of promoting and monitoring compliance with the conditions of these disposals.

    Radcliffe, Polly C. and Stevens, Alex (2008) Are drug treatment services only for 'thieving junkie scumbags'? Drug users and the management of stigmatised identities. Social Science and Medicine, 67 (7). pp. 1065-1073. ISSN 0277-9536.


    This article uses qualitative interviews with 53 problematic drug users who had dropped out of treatment in England, UK to explore how they describe the stigmatisation of drug users and drug services. It discusses the construction of the category of the junkie through its association with un-controlled heroin use and criminality. It shows how some drug users carefully manage information about their discreditable identities by excluding themselves from this category, while acknowledging its validity for other drug users. The junkie identity was generally seen as shameful and therefore to be avoided, although it holds attractions for some drug users. For many of the interviewees, entry to treatment risked exposing their own activities as shaming, as they saw treatment as being a place that was populated by junkies and where it becomes more difficult to manage discreditable information. The treatment regime, e.g. the routine of supervised consumption of methadone,was itself seen by some as stigmatising and was also seen as hindering progress to the desired ‘normal’ life of conventional employment. Participation in the community of users of both drugs and drug services was perceived as potentially damaging to the prospects of recovery. This emphasises the importance of social capital, including links to people and opportunities outside the drug market. It also highlights the danger that using the criminal justice system to concentrate prolific offenders in treatment may have the perverse effects of excluding other people who have drug problems and of prolonging the performance of the junkie identity within treatment services. It is concluded that treatment agencies should address these issues, including through the provision of more drug services in mainstream settings, in order to ensure that drug services are not seen to be suitable only for one particularly stigmatised category of drug user.

    Reuter, Peter and Stevens, Alex (2008) Assessing UK Drug Policy from a Crime Control Perspective. Criminology and Criminal Justice, 8 (4). pp. 461-482. ISSN 1748–8958.


    Over the entire last quarter of the 20th century the British drug problem worsened, despite the implementation of a variety of approaches and commitment of substantial criminal justice and other resources. The link between chronic use of expensive drugs and property crime makes this experience important for understanding trends in crime and justice in Britain. The worsening of the problem can be seen in the growing number of new heroin users each year over almost the entire period 1975–2000, on top of which was layered, starting in the late 1990s, the first major outbreak of chronic cocaine use. This was not the common pattern in Western Europe over that time and by 2000 the UK had Western Europe’s most serious drug problem. The response initially took the form of increasing enforcement against drug markets; in just the decade 1994–2005 the number of prison cell years handed out in annual sentences has tripled. Even with this expansion we estimate that the annual probability of incarceration for a class A drug dealer is only approximately 6 per cent. Since 2000 there has also been a massive increase in treatment resources linked to the criminal justice system. The number of treatment assessments in recent years has been as large as 58 per cent of the number of persons estimated to be problematic users of Class A drugs. The government believes that drug policy has contributed to the decline in crime in the UK since 2000. Using what is known about treatment outcomes, we argue that despite impressive evidence of effect on individual level offending, the effect of treatment expansion in reducing overall crime rates is likely to have been limited.

    Stevens, Alex and Radcliffe, Polly C. and Hunt, Neil et al. (2008) Early Exit: Estimating and explaining early exit from drug treatment. Harm Reduction Journal, 5 (13). pp. 1-14. ISSN 1477-7517.


    Background: Early exit (drop-out) from drug treatment can mean that drug users do not derive the full benefits that treatment potentially offers. Additionally, it may mean that scarce treatment resources are used inefficiently. Understanding the factors that lead to early exit from treatment should enable services to operate more effectively and better reduce drug related harm. To date, few studies have focused on drop-out during the initial, engagement phase of treatment. This paper describes a mixed method study of early exit from English drug treatment services. Methods: Quantitative data (n = 2,624) was derived from three English drug action team areas; two metropolitan and one provincial. Hierarchical linear modelling (HLM) was used to investigate predictors of early-exit while controlling for differences between agencies. Qualitative interviews were conducted with 53 ex-clients and 16 members of staff from 10 agencies in these areas to explore their perspectives on early exit, its determinants and, how services could be improved. Results: Almost a quarter of the quantitative sample (24.5%) dropped out between assessment and 30 days in treatment. Predictors of early exit were: being younger; being homeless; and not being a current injector. Age and injection status were both consistently associated with exit between assessment and treatment entry. Those who were not in substitution treatment were significantly more likely to leave treatment at this stage. There were substantial variations between agencies, which point to the importance of system factors. Qualitative analysis identified several potential ways to improve services. Perceived problems included: opening hours; the service setting; under-utilisation of motivational enhancement techniques; lack of clarity about expectations; lengthy, repetitive assessment procedures; constrained treatment choices; low initial dosing of opioid substitution treatment; and the routine requirement of supervised consumption of methadone. Conclusion: Early exit diminishes the contribution that treatment may make to the reduction of drug related harm. This paper identifies characteristics of people most likely to drop out of treatment prematurely in English drug treatment services and highlights a range of possibilities for improving services.

    Stevens, Alex (2008) Weighing up crime: the over estimation of drug-related crime. Contemporary Drug Problems, 35 (2/3). pp. 265-290. ISSN 0091-4509.


    Background: It is generally accepted that harms from crime cause a very large part of the total social harm that can be attributed to drug use. For example, crime harms accounted for 70% of the weighting of the British Drug Harm Index in 2004. This paper explores the linkage of criminal harm to drug use and challenges the current overestimation of the proportion of crime that can be causally attributed to drug use. It particularly examines the use of data from arrested drug users to estimate the quantity of drug-related crime. Method: Multivariate, secondary analysis of data from the British Offending, Crime and Justice Survey is used to test the hypothesis that drug users are over-represented in arrest data, compared to other offenders. Results: It is found in logistic regression that the strongest predictor of arrest was not the frequency or type of offending, but whether an offender was in work or education. Offenders who have used illicit drugs were over two times as likely to be arrested as those who did not, even taking employment status and the type and frequency of offending into account. Conclusion: Current methods for estimating drug-related crime endanger the validity of measurements of drug-related harm, with damaging consequences for the analysis of drug policy and the stigmatisation of drug users.

    Stevens, Alex and Berto, Daniele and Frick, Ulrich et al. (2007) The victimisation of dependent drug users: Findings from a European study, UK. European Journal of Criminology, 4 (4). pp. 385-408. ISSN 1477-3708.


    This article contributes to the literature on drug users, victimisation and offending using data on 545 dependent drug users entering treatment in four European countries. Members of the sample were exposed to high levels of criminal victimisation. Sub-groups who were particularly vulnerable to crime included women (and especially sex workers), the homeless, recent offenders and those with a history of poor mental health. Multivariate analysis indicated that frequent drug use, recent offending and histories of depression and anxiety were significantly predictive of violent victimisation, while only gender and a history of anxiety were significantly predictive of property victimisation. The article discusses how these findings relate to theoretical approaches to victimisation, in both positivist and critical frameworks.

    Stevens, Alex (2007) When two dark figures collide: Evidence and discourse on drug-related crime. Critical Social Policy, 27 (1). pp. 77-99. ISSN 1461-703X.


    This paper explores the socio-political construction of drug-related crime; a concept that has dominated recent developments in UK drug policy. It has been assumed that the perceived overlap between known offenders and drug users is also present among the much larger groups of unknown offenders and drug users. This assumption has led to inflated claims of scale, precision and causality in political discussions of the drug–crime link. The discourse coalition approach is used to analyse how such methodologically suspect knowledge has been translated into policy since 1997. It is argued that the concept of drug-related crime has been influential because it is tactically and structurally useful to powerful groups in discursive struggle.

    Stevens, Alex (2007) Survival of the ideas that fit: An evolutionary analogy for the use of evidence in policy. Social Policy and Society, 6 (1). pp. 25-35. ISSN 1474-7464.


    This paper explores bias in the use of evidence in policy. It argues that existing models of the evidence–policy relationship neglect the tendency for attention to be paid only to that evidence helpful to the interests of powerful social groups. An evolutionary analogy is used to explain how this bias arises, without the need for irrationality or conspiracy on the part of policy makers. Examples are given in the fields of drug, asylum and other policies, and the possible responses by researchers to the biased use of research evidence are discussed.

    McSweeney, Tim and Stevens, Alex and Hunt, Neil et al. (2007) Twisting arms or a helping hand? Assessing the impact of ‘coerced’ and comparable ‘voluntary’ drug treatment options. British Journal of Criminology, 47 (3). pp. 470-490. ISSN 0007-0955.


    Despite the rapid expansion of options to coerce drug-dependent offenders into treatment - culminating recently in the provisions of the Drugs Act 2005 and the government’s ‘Tough Choices’ agenda - research findings to date are equivocal about their impact in reducing crime. This paper presents UK findings from a pan-European study on this issue. The results – at both national and international levels - reveal that court-mandated clients reported significant and sustained reductions in illicit drug use and offending behaviours, and improvements in other areas of social functioning. Those entering the same treatment services through non-criminal justice routes also reported similar reductions and improvements. The implications of these findings are discussed in the context of recent policy developments.

    Stevens, Alex and Berto, Daniele and Frick, Ulrich et al. (2006) The relationship between legal status, perceived pressure and motivation in treatment for drug dependence: Results from a European study of quasi-compulsory treatment. European Addiction Research, 12 (4). pp. 197-209. ISSN 1022-6877.


    This paper reports on intake data from QCT Europe, a study of quasi-compulsory treatment for drug dependent offenders. It explores the link between formal legal coercion, perceived pressure to be in treatment and motivation amongst a sample of 845 people who entered treatment for drug dependence in 5 European countries, half of them in quasi-compulsory treatment and half ‘voluntarily’. Using both quantitative and qualitative data, it suggests that those who enter treatment under QCT do perceive greater pressure to be in treatment, but that this does not necessarily lead to higher or lower motivation than ‘volunteers’. Many drug dependent offenders value QCT as an opportunity to get treatment. Motivation is mutable and can be developed or diminished by the quality of support and services offered to drug dependent offenders.

    Stevens, Alex and Bertolini, Cristina and Heckmann, Wolfgang et al. (2005) Quasi-Compulsory Treatment of Drug Dependent Offenders: An International Literature Review. Substance Use & Misuse, 40. pp. 269-283. ISSN 1082-6084.

    Stevens, Alex and McSweeney, Tim and van Ooyen, Marianne et al. (2005) On Coercion. International Journal of Drug Policy, 16 (4). pp. 203-206. ISSN 0955-3959.


    Coercion is controversial. The idea of using the legal system to get drug users into treatment tends to polarise debate between those who present it as a solution to drug-related crime, and others who see it as an abuse of human rights and of the relationship between client and therapist. Protagonists in this debate tend to talk past each other, with their different emphases on crime and civil liberties. In this editorial, we attempt to test these arguments, in the hope of moving the debate beyond mutual incomprehension. Our discussion builds on work we have done for the QCT Europe project, a six-country study of the use of quasi-compulsory treatment for drug-dependent offenders (see

    Hunt, Neil and Stevens, Alex (2004) Whose harm? Harm and the shift from health to coercion in UK drug policy. Social Policy and Society, 3 (4). pp. 333-342. ISSN 1474-7464.


    Building on Stimson’s (2000) analysis, this paper examines the shift from a focus on health towards one of crime within UK drug policy. The increased use of coerced or compulsory treatment of drug users is discussed with reference to harm reduction theory and the question of whose harm is prioritised in shaping drug services. We also identify mechanisms by which the efficacy of treatment approaches based on coercion may be lessened or reduce the efficacy of other existing services. Failure to consider these may be an important omission in any appraisal of the impact of policies that increasingly prioritise crime prevention and coercion over heath and voluntarism.

    Stevens, Alex and Bur, Anne-Marie and Young, Lucy (2003) People, jobs, rights and power: the role of participation in combating social exclusion in Europe. Community Development Journal, 38 (2). pp. 84-95. ISSN 0010-3802.


    Interest is being revived in participation as a means of tackling social exclusion. There are differing interpretations of both participation and social exclusion, which leave it unclear as to how one is supposed to combat the other. This article reports some findings from a project that looked at existing participation efforts in four European countries, and compares observations with previous insights. We categorize the aims of these efforts, relate these aims to policy developments at European and local level and link them to differing explanations of social exclusion. We argue that greater clarity is necessary on the aims of participation and on how it is supposed to tackle social exclusion if conflicts that have hindered previous programmes are to be overcome.

    Stevens, Alex (1998) The development of drug services in European prisons, 1995-1998. Social Work in Europe, 5 (2). pp. 16-22. ISSN 1468-2664.

    Stevens, Alex (1996) The mandatory drug testing programme in prisons. Criminal Justice Matters, 24 (1). pp. 20-21. ISSN 0962-7251.


    Talk to people who work with imprisoned drug users about the mandatory drug testing programme, and you will hear words like'iniquitous','pointless','unethical, inefficient, illconceived'and'a complete waste of time and money'. The policy that inspires these comments now includes every prison in England and Wales, and is being extended to those in Scotland as well. The publication of the test results from the eight prisons where mandatory drug testing (MDT) was initially introduced has fuelled the debate on ...


    Stevens, Alex (2011) Drugs, Crime and Public Health: The Political Economy of Drug Policy. Routledge-Cavendish, London, 202 pp. ISBN 9780415491044.


    Drugs, Crime and Public Health provides an accessible but critical discussion of recent policy on illicit drugs. Using a comparative approach - centred on the UK, but with insights and complementary data gathered from the USA and other countries - it discusses theoretical perspectives and provides new empirical evidence which challenges prevalent ways of thinking about illicit drugs. It argues that problematic drug use can only be understood in the social context in which it takes place, a context which it shares with other problems of crime and public health. The book demonstrates the social and spatial overlap of these problems, examining the focus of contemporary drug policy on crime reduction. This focus, Alex Stevens contends, has made it less, rather than more, likely that long-term solutions will be produced for drugs, crime and health inequalities. And he concludes, through examining competing visions for the future of drug policy, with an argument for social solutions to these social problems.


    Stevens, Alex (2013) Modernising Drug Law Enforcement: Applying harm reduction principles to the policing of retail drug markets. project_report. International Drug Policy Consortium


    Key Points: • The level of harm is more important than the size of the market. • Visible, open air drug markets tend to be more harmful per unit of use than hidden, closed drug markets • Policing tactics that are not experienced by the community as being fair, lawful and effective will harm police legitimacy and community relations. • Some enforcement-led approaches, including short-term crackdowns and large scale stop and search, are unlikely to produce sustainable reductions in drug sales. They may increase levels of violence and health harms and reduce police legitimacy. • It is rarely possible to eliminate retail drug markets, but well designed and implemented policing tactics can force the drug market to take less harmful forms. • Applying harm reduction principles to drug policing may boost police legitimacy as well as community safety. • Focused deterrence and ‘pulling levers’ may reduce both harm and crime, but this depends on the context and on careful implementation and evaluation.

    Armenta, Amira and Bell, Ross and Carlin, Eric et al. (2010) IDPC Drug Policy Guide. project_report. International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC)


    The International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) is a global network of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and professional networks that specialises in issues related to the production and use of controlled drugs. We aim to promote objective and open debate on the effectiveness, direction and content of drug policies at national and international level, and support evidence-based policies that are effective in reducing drug-related harms. We produce occasional briefing papers, disseminate the reports of our member organisations about particular drug-related matters, and offer expert consultancy services to policy-makers and officials worldwide. IDPC members have a wide range of experience and expertise in the analysis of drug problems and policies, and contribute to national and international policy debates. This drug policy guide was compiled in 2009 through research and consultation with our network of experts. It aims to provide our regional and national partners with a resource that they can use to conduct reviews of the national drug policies and programmes in their areas, and engage with policy-makers to work towards policy and programme improvements. The guide will be updated annually to reflect changes in global evidence and experience.

    Margo, J. and Stevens, Alex (2008) Make me a criminal: preventing youth crime. discussion_paper. ippr - Institute for Public Policy Research, London

    Wilson, L. and Stevens, Alex (2008) Understanding drug markets and how to influence them. discussion_paper. Beckley Foundation, Oxford


    This paper provides a review for policy makers of what is known about the economic structure of illicit drug markets and the business operations of high level dealers operating within it. It is based on interviews with imprisoned drug traffickers and dealers in UK prisons carried out by Matrix Knowledge Group, and also owes a substantial debt to the valuable work done in this field by Peter Reuter, Jonathan Caulkins and Frederick Desroches, amongst others. The paper does not review the harms caused by law enforcement, some of which have been looked at in previous reports. It assumes that the structure of drug markets influences the primary harms arising from drug use (e.g. excess mortality and disease), the violence that is related to drug markets and the opportunity costs of people spending time and money on illicit substances. Some of these harms might be reduced by introducing alternative arrangements for the international regulation of psychoactive substances. These alternative arrangements are not reviewed here. Rather, the aim is to provide policy makers with information on drug markets as a basis for focussing enforcement resources, and devising more effective policies, to reduce the damage done by the trade in illicit drugs.

    Dolan, K. and Khoei, E.M. and Brentari, C. et al. (2007) Prisons and Drugs: A global review of incarceration, drug use and drug services. Report 12. discussion_paper. The Beckley Foundation, Oxford


    Prisons play an important role in drug policy. They are used to punish people who break drug laws and they also hold a large number of people who have experience of drug use and drug problems. They therefore have an important part to play in attempts to reduce the harm caused by drugs. Imprisonment itself can be seen as one type of harm, as it causes problems for prisoners and their families and creates a large financial burden for taxpayers. Theseharms and costs are difficult to calculate, but there is little evidence that large scale imprisonment of drug offenders has had the desired results in deterring drug use or reducing drug problems (Bewley- Taylor, Trace, & Stevens, 2005). In this paper, we examine the international prevalence of drug users, drug use and related problems in prisons and we report on the problems that are related to the issue of drugs in prison. We go on to examine the international guidelines and effective responses that have been developed in this area in the last decade. The paper is a review of the literature, based on a search of bibliographic databases, including Medline, PubMed, ISI as well as EMBASE and contacts with researchers and practitioners in the field up to January 2007.

    Hughes, Caitlin Elizabeth and Stevens, Alex (2007) The effects of the decriminalization of drug use in Portugal. discussion_paper. The Beckley Foundation, Oxford


    In 2004, the Beckley Foundation reported on the legal changes that took place in Portugal in 2001 (Allen, Trace & Klein 2004). This report aims to provide an updated overview of the effects of these changes, using data from the evaluations that have been carried out and from new interviews with key stakeholders in Portugal. We reviewed the available evaluative reports (Moreira, Trigueiros & Antunes 2007; Tavares, Graça, Martins & Asensio 2005; Trigo de Roza 2007) and also carried out 11 interviews with key stakeholders in October 2007. These included representatives of the Institute for Drugs and Drug Addiction (the government body in charge of researching and responding to drug addiction and use), non-governmental organisations, political parties and national and international drug researchers. This report provides information for an international audience on the current trends and the perceptions of key stakeholders regarding the major impacts, successes, and challenges in adopting decriminalization. Given the length of this report, and the availability of data, it cannot provide a definitive evaluation of all the impacts.

    Reuter, Peter and Stevens, Alex (2007) An Analysis of UK Drug Policy. discussion_paper. United Kingdom Drug Policy Commission, London

    Stevens, Alex and Hallam, C. and Trace, Mike (2006) Treatment for Dependent Drug Use: A guide for policymakers. discussion_paper. Beckley Foundation, Oxford


    This report aims to give policymakers an accessible summary of the current evidence available on the effectiveness of treatment, and suggestions on how treatment services can be expanded and integrated into a co-ordinated system. The authors explain why treatment for dependent drug use is a good investment in any country with significant numbers of dependent drug users, in that it has been shown to achieve significant reductions in the health and social harms that are associated with drug problems.

    Stevens, Alex and Trace, Mike and Bewley-Taylor, D. (2005) The Reduction of Drug-Related Crime: an overview of the global evidence. project_report. The Beckley Foundation, Oxford


    The Beckley Foundation Drug Policy Programme (BFDPP) is a new initiative dedicated to providing a rigorous, independent review of the effectiveness of national and international drug policies. The aim of this programme of research and analysis is to assemble and disseminate material that supports the rational consideration of complex drug policy issues, and leads to a more effective management of the widespread use of psychoactive substances in the future.

    Bewley-Taylor, D. and Trace, Mike and Stevens, Alex (2005) Incarceration of drug offenders: Costs and impacts. Briefing paper 7. discussion_paper. Beckley Foundation


    Most governments make strong statements about the need to maintain, and often increase, police activity and penal sanctions for drug users. This is based on the idea that strong enforcement, and widespread incarceration, will deter potential users and dealers from becoming involved in the illegal drug market. In fact, very few countries actually follow through on the rhetoric – arrest and incarceration rates for drug users are relatively low in most countries in relation to the total number of users, and the often quoted maximum sentences are rarely, if ever, used. The one country that has consciously used large-scale incarceration as a drug prevention measure is the United States, where approximately 500,000 drug law offenders are currently in prison. Evidence from their experience over the last 20 years shows that, while some marginal impacts on drug prices and prevalence rates can be attributed to this policy, it has failed to fundamentally alter the scale and nature of the illegal drug market. In addition, there are significant financial, social and health costs associated with high rates of incarceration, which perhaps explains why most countries have not gone down this road.

Book Sections
Edited Books

    Stevens, Alex (2008) Crossing Frontiers: International Developments in the Treatment of Drug Dependence. Pavilion Publishing and Media, Brighton, 120 pp. ISBN 9781841962177.


    Crossing Frontiers encourages readers to think about different international approaches to the treatment of drug users to inform their own understanding (and application) of practice in the UK. The text encourages providing a range of services, including newer approaches, which respond to the needs of users as unique individuals, empowering and supporting them to 'break the barriers' created by their drug use thus improving their lives.


    Stevens, Alex (2008) Drug-Crime Connections. Review of: Drug-Crime Connections by Bennett, Trevor and Holloway, Katy. Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews, 37 (6). pp. 590-591. ISSN 0094-3061.

Research Reports
Total publications in KAR: 49 [See all in KAR]
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Research interests

My principal research interests focus on illicit drug policies and how they affect drug use, crime and public health. I have an on-going interest in how evidence is used in making policy and in the effects of drug treatment interventions. I also work on youth crime and the reduction of youth risk behaviours.

I led the development and evaluation of the RisKit project, which worked with vulnerable 14-16 year olds to reduce their risk-taking behaviours.

I directed the Connections project which promoted research and good practice in preventing drugs and related infections in European criminal justice systems.

I led QCT Europe, a European-funded, six-country research project on treatment for drug dependent offenders.

I also led a project called Early Exit on early retention in treatment for the Department for Health. I have also published peer-reviewed articles and policy reports on social exclusion and youth crime.

I am interested in supervising students focusing on issues of illicit drug use, drug policy, drug treatment, drugs and crime and related policies. If you have a proposal in these areas and would like to study at the University of Kent, please email me to discuss further.


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I teach on the Criminal Justice and Criminology programme at the Medway campus. I convene the optional modules SO654: Drugs, Crime and the Criminal Justice System and SO705: Criminal Justice Practice

I also share teaching with colleagues on the second year module SO651: Issues in Criminal Justice and the first year module SO329: Introduction to Criminology and Criminal Justice.

I also supervise third year and MA dissertations, as well as PhD theses.

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Employability in criminal justice

Does drug policy matter?

International Drug Policy Reform Conference 2011, Reducing Drug Arrests by Shifting Law Enforcement Priorities

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  • The Connections project promotes research and good practice in preventing drugs and related infections in European criminal justice system.

  • QCT Europe produced evidence for policy and practice on quasi-compulsory treatment of drug dependent offenders (QCT) in Europe. EISS coordinated the QCT Europe research project, which was funded by the European Commission's Fifth Framework Research programme and concluded in 2005.

    QCT Europe produced evidence for policy and practice on quasi-compulsory treatment of drug dependent offenders (QCT) in Europe. It included partners in the UK, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland.
  • Early Exit, on early retention in treatment for the Department of Health. EISS has completed work on this project, funded by the Department of Health, which aimed to estimate and explain the phenomenon of dependent drug users dropping out very early from treatment.

    It involved quantitative and qualitative research with samples of drug treatment staff and service users in three drug action team areas. It was funded by the Department of Health and carried out in collaboration with ICPR. The project was led by Alex Stevens, with fieldwork and analysis carried out by Polly Radcliffe. Download the final report.
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Telephone: +44(0)1227 823072 Fax: +44(0)1227 827005 or email us

SSPSSR, Faculty of Social Sciences, Cornwallis North East, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NF

Last Updated: 28/07/2014