£1.8m project to evaluate police-led drug diversion schemes

Olivia Miller
Picture by Getty Images

Professor Alex Stevens from the University’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, working with the College of Policing, has been awarded £1.8m from the Government’s Evaluation Accelerator Fund to evaluate police-led diversion (PDD) schemes for drug-involved suspects.

These schemes, which are currently in operation in Thames Valley, Durham and the West Midlands, allow police to avoid arresting and charging adults who are caught in possession of small amounts of drugs. Instead, they are assessed, then referred to education, treatment or support if required with an ‘out of court disposal’ – which does not create a criminal record.

In other countries, such schemes have been shown to reduce re-offending and to save police time and money. They also have the potential to improve health and reduce ethnic disparities in law enforcement.

Professor Stevens and Paul Quintom from the College of Policing will be leading a consortium of academic, policing, health and service user partners to deliver both qualitative process and quantitative outcome findings. The research will evaluate the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the PDD schemes already operating.

The researchers will use data collected by the police, NHS, and drug treatment services to assess the impacts of diversion on crime, hospitalisations and engagement with drug treatment. The outcomes for people eligible for diversion in Thames Valley, Durham and the West Midlands will be compared to the outcomes of drug-involved suspects in matched areas which do not yet use PDD schemes.

Interviews and focus groups will also be carried out with people who work with PDD schemes, including police officers, drug treatment providers, service users and their families, to help analyse how the schemes work in practice. How equitable the effects of PDD are (e.g. by ethnicity and gender) will also be examined.

This research builds on previous work carried out by Professor Stevens for the Irish government, on alternatives to criminalisation for drug possession.

Professor Stevens said: ‘The evaluation of PDD schemes has been recommended by various bodies, including the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, the recent review of drugs by Dame Carol Black, and the government’s new ten-year drug strategy. We are delighted to receive the funding to progress research in this field and hope it will help to demonstrate the impact of such schemes.

‘People with direct experience of being policed will play a key role. They have collaborated in designing the research, especially in creating our plans for research with service users.’

Paul Quintom added: ‘The Evaluation Accelerator Funding provides us with an opportunity to have a direct impact on policy and practice. The funding means the evidence we generate on the implementation, effects and cost-effects of police drug diversion will be considered by Government in future spending review.’

The project partners include the Universities of Sheffield, York and Loughborough, the Open University, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, the Office of the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, Thames Valley Police, Durham Police and the charity Use Voice.

The research project will conclude in March 2025. Its findings will be published in a range of reports, practical guidance documents and academic articles.