Government should overhaul how criminals with drug-related addictions are brought back into the community

Professor Alex Stevens authors major drug harm reduction report

Professor Alex Stevens, from the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research (SSPSSR), is the lead author of a new report that sets out key ways in which the government should improve how people with drug problems are brought back into the community when leaving prison.

The report, released by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs that reports directly to the Home Office, contains nine key recommendations to reduce the number of drug-related harms that occur when offenders are released back into the community.

A key proposal is to reduce the release of prisoners on Fridays. This is because many are released with little outside support and key services they may rely on are usually closed over the weekend.

The report said this situation creates a high risk of relapse, reoffending or even death. Death rates among released prisoners are much higher than the general population, and have been rising as drug-related deaths have soared to record levels, the report notes.

The report also recommends reducing the number of risky transitions between custody and community by reducing the use of short-term prison sentences and of recalls to prison of people with drug problems.

Another recommendation is that a single government minister is made responsible for the issue of custody-community transitions. Prisoners should also have easier access to Universal Credit on leaving prison to provide the support they need to avoid reoffending.

The report also suggests that better individual support plans are created within prisons and probations services to help prisoners who do have drug problems in the run-up to their release.

The full report can be read via the Home Office website.

Professor Stevens said: ‘It is clear that previous recommendations on how prisoners with drug problems are released back into the community have not been fully implemented. Leaving prison on a Friday with nowhere to return to and key support services closing for 48 hours is clearly going to cause problems. We also need to reduce the number of risky transitions by reducing the use of imprisonment for people with drug problems.

‘Overall, the measures we propose could go a long way to improving public health, reducing reoffending rates and, as a result, reduce the overall burden on the prison systems and related public services, as well as saving lives.’