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How alcohol and drug treatment helps to reduce crime

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There is a well-established and complex link between drugs, alcohol and crime, and in the recent years there has been a particular emphasis on the links between drug misuse and offending.

We know that people who misuse drugs are more likely to have been involved in crime, but we also know that drug treatment can help to prevent it.

In England, just under 300,000 adults get help for drug and alcohol dependency each year. Most people receiving drug treatment are addicted to heroin or crack cocaine, or both, and many commit crimes to fund their addiction.

One of the biggest factors that influences whether a criminal will reoffend is their use of drugs and alcohol.

Further evidence that alcohol and drug treatment prevents crime

New analysis published last week by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has added to the evidence of how alcohol and drug treatment can help to prevent crime.

We worked with MoJ to anonymously analyse the relationship between offending records, held on the Police National Computer (PNC), and data on treatment for drugs and alcohol from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS).

People who started treatment in 2012 were selected in order to examine offending over a two year period pre and post treatment. The analysis revealed that:

  • In 2012, nearly 133,000 people started treatment for drugs and alcohol, 35% of which had a criminal conviction recorded against them in the two years previous
  • Overall 44% of people in treatment hadn’t offended again two years after starting treatment
  • The number of recorded offences by people in treatment fell by a third over the two years, from 129,000 to 86,500
  • People who had been in prison before starting treatment, and those who dropped out and came back to treatment, were more likely to reoffend
  • People who successfully completed their treatment, or were still in treatment at the end of the two years, were less likely to reoffend

Fig 1: Reduction in reoffending in the two years following the start of treatment, by substance group

Fig 2 : Reduction in offending in the two-years following the start of treatment for opiate clients, by discharge status

The data also showed that:

  • Offenders accessing treatment for opiates were most likely to reoffend
  • People who are older or are in treatment for non-opiate substances are less likely to offend
  • Those accessing treatment for alcohol were the least likely to reoffend

Going beyond drug and alcohol treatment

These figures are good news and re-affirm how important drug treatment is in cutting crime, as well as preventing alcohol and drug-related deaths and helping people recover from dependence.

It’s worth remembering that as well as drug problems many people committing crimes are also more likely to have a range of other problems, such as homelessness, unemployment, lack of qualifications and dysfunctional family backgrounds.

In England, over 75% of homelessness services support people who are ex-prisoners. Many offenders have also never had a steady job, which can be part of the reason why some turn back to crime after their release.

So, although this new data is encouraging, we need to remember that treating substance misuse is only one part of successfully rehabilitating offenders and helping them to get their lives back on track.

What we’re doing next

The figures from this report form part of our new social return on investment (SROI) tool, which helps local authorities to demonstrate the social and economic benefits of investing in alcohol and drug prevention, treatment and recovery interventions.

An important part of this tool relies on offending data to determine changes in offending behaviour following treatment, and to estimate the number of people leaving treatment free from dependency and not repeating treatment and/or committing an alcohol/ drug-related offence.

The SROI tool is currently available on  (local authority commissioners will have the required login).

We are also developing reports for police and crime commissioners (PCC), which provide them with the drug and alcohol prevalence, crime and treatment data for their areas. The PCC reports are due to be released on 9 November 2017.

If you're interested in this area, read our Health Matters edition on preventing drug misuse deaths.

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Ronnie posted on

    Just a pity substance misuse services are being under funded, working with higher and higher case loads with fewer resources and not had a proper wage increase for about 6 years and it gets more difficult year on year