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Routes Into Residential Treatment Via Crime

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One of the key aims of community sentences such as DTTOs, is to break the connection between drug use and criminal activity. But the relationship between drugs and crime is not straightforward. The view that crime committed by problematic drug users is largely driven by the need to finance the purchase of illegal drugs is ‘not entirely borne out by the evidence’. (Scottish Consortium on Crime and Criminal Justice, 2000). There is no single, causal connection between drug use and crime. It is unwise to generalise as there is evidence to suggest that drug use causes or explains the crime, while other evidence suggests that involvement in other kinds of crime explains the drug use. Many studies show that most people who misuse drugs and commit crimes, committed crimes before they used drugs (Pudney 2002). In other cases, drug use and crime may start independently, without one causing the other. A prior history of criminality, rather than prior drug use, is the most common factor in crime frequency. This prior involvement in crime may reflect a broader lifestyle, which typically encompasses poly-drug use and criminality. For those engaged in crime prior to drug use, their offending can increase sharply when the factor of drug misuse comes into play. NACRO’s report on drugs and crime identified three ways in which the relationship between drug use and other forms of offending is believed to work. There is an important distinction between offences which are drug induced, in which the effects of drugs may mean that people are more likely to commit certain kinds of offences and acquisitive crimes that are believed to be drug-related, in which the motivation is specifically to use the proceeds of crime to fund their drug use. Finally, there are also crimes linked to the drug trade (NACRO, 2003). What is certain however is that drug misuse relates to a wide range of crimes and is a crucial factor in a high proportion of acquisitive crimes, with heroin, crack cocaine and cocaine users responsible for a significant proportion. In the National Treatment Outcome Research Study, 50 per cent of patients had committed some form of acquisitive crime in the previous three months and a minority engaged repeatedly in crime to fund their dependency (Gossop et al, 1999 and 2001). The best available evidence on the links between criminal offending and drug use comes from the New English and Welsh arrestee drug abuse (NEW-ADAM) research programme, which interviews and drug tests people arrested by the police at 16 sites in England and Wales (Holloway, Bennett, 2004). Just over half (53 per cent) of arrestees reported acquisitive offending in the last 12 months, compared to just under two thirds (62 per cent) of those reporting any illicit drug use and three quarters (75 per cent) of those using heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine. Class A users reported crime levels ten times higher than that of non-drug users and of those using any illicit drug, 40 per cent said there was a connection between their drug use and their offending behaviour, compared to 78 per cent of those using heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine. There is a minority of drug users who are dependent in use, chaotic in lifestyles and finance their use through acquisitive crime. Crime tends to intensify during periods of high drug use. However, the overwhelming majority of illicit drug misusers do not commit (further) criminal offences and many people commit crimes without having used drugs at all. It is important not to create an impression that all problem drug users are criminals. people with serious health, mental health and/or social problems – whether they reach that treatment through the community or criminal justice system (DrugScope, 2004). Turning Point’s experience shows that many dependent drug users have limited social and economic resources and limited exposure to life opportunities. Early drug use and deprivation are still the strongest indicators of progression to problem use. (Runciman Committee, 2000). Low educational attainment, negative childhood experience, poor access to healthcare, housing and limited employment, all underlie drug misuse and offending behaviour (Seddon, 2000). The Government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) concluded that ‘on a strong balance of probability, deprivation is today in Britain likely to make a significant causal contribution to the cause, complication and intractability of certain kinds of damaging drug misuse. We want in the future, to see deprivation given its full and proper place in all considerations of drug prevention policy’ (ACMD, 1998). It is necessary to tackle the factors that draw people into drug misuse in the first place and Turning Point believes that social deprivation should be given a higher priority in drug policy and be a key performance indicator for services. The success of drug treatment, whether provided in the community or via the criminal justice system, should be measured against a new target to reduce deprivation and promote social inclusion.

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