Over the past ten years, UK drug strategies have increasingly focused on providing treatment and support services for drug-dependent offenders – who commit a disproportionate number of acquisitive crimes (e.g. shoplifting and burglary) – as a way of reducing overall crime levels. We have analysed the evidence for the effectiveness of these initiatives for reducing drug use and reoffending and of the wider impact of this more prominent criminal justice approach.
It is clear from this review that in many areas the evidence about the effectiveness of different interventions is seriously weak or absent. However, by considering the evidence that is available, we believe it points to the following as key issues for policy and practice development:
- The principle of using CJS-based interventions to encourage engagement with treatment is supported by the evidence.
- Following a period of expansion and a focus on quantity, attention should now focus on quality
- Net-widening to include additional groups of drug-using offenders in CJS-based interventions may have negative consequences.
- Community punishments are likely to be more appropriate than imprisonment for most problem drug-using offenders.
- Prison drug services frequently fall short of even minimum standards.
- Given the sizeable investment in CJS interventions for drug-dependent offenders, we know remarkably little about what works and for whom.
As part of our assembly and analysis of the evidence, we conducted semi-structured group discussions with policy makers, practitioners and service users between October and November 2007. The aims were to get a ‘reality check’ on the Institute for Criminal Policy Research (ICPR) evidence review, improve our understanding of current practice and consider the implications for future policy and practice.