You are here: New data shows at least 3 in 5 short sentenced prisoners have an addiction

New data obtained by Revolving Doors Agency under Freedom of Information legislation shows that 3 in 5 (60%) of people sent to custody for less than 6 months report a drug or alcohol problem on arrival at prison.

Previous data, which showed only the overall rates for all sentence lengths combined, found 28% to have a substance misuse problem on arrival (HMI Prisons Thematic report). [1,2]

These new figures expose the gap between people sentenced to prison for longer periods of time following more serious offences, and a group often called ‘the revolving door’ who commit persistent low level offences such as theft and non-violent drug offences, driven by their addiction and other challenges in their lives such as homelessness or mental health conditions [3].

The rate of drug and alcohol problems reported by people serving short prison sentences exposes the need for a radical new approach. Change is backed by the public; a recent independent survey commissioned by Revolving Doors found that 3 out of 4 people think that those with drug or alcohol problems belong in treatment rather than in prison.

Further new data, again obtained by Revolving Doors, shows the reoffending rate for prison sentences is 68% - higher even than those on sentences of less than one year.

This stark evidence of the current failing approach comes at the same time as Revolving Doors publishes a report on the critical role of Police and Crime Commissioners in tackling substance misuse. At the same time, in England and Wales, drug-related deaths are at record high.

The report explores how Commissioners are addressing the issue of drug and alcohol problems amongst people who come into repeat contact with the police and criminal justice system due to their multiple problems. The report identifies the ground-breaking work of Police and Crime Commissioners in Durham and the West Midlands to break the cycle of crisis and crime by treating substance misuse as a public health issue. Others, such as the Police and Crime Commissioners for Surrey and Gloucestershire, are tailoring support to often overlooked groups, such as young women and girls who are at risk of victimisation; veterans at risk of entering the criminal justice system; and complex drinkers.

The majority of people who arrive at prison on a short sentence of just a few weeks or months report a drug or alcohol problem. This is robust evidence of the need to tackle problems earlier to prevent the cycle of crisis and crime. We know that a short prison sentence can exacerbate problems; a spell inside can disrupt drug treatment programmes, break up families and cause people to lose their homes. Encouragingly, we know the public back new approaches and want to see investment in treatment programmes not prison places. Our new report demonstrates the critical role of Police and Crime Commissioners; by investing in drug and alcohol treatment and by taking a public health approach to people trapped in the cycle of crisis and crime they can help save lives.

Christina Marriott, Chief Executive

1 Thematic report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons (2015) Changing patterns of substance misuse in adult prisons and service responses, p.29.
2 Previous data is based on HMI Probation surveys. The newly published data from MOJ is based on the custody screening tool – both rely on self-identification of need.
3 The 2015 HMI Prisons report also found that people with mental health conditions reported higher levels of drug or alcohol problems on arrival at prison.


West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, David Jamieson, said:

I am firmly of the view that, despite the good work being done by many, collectively our drug policy is failing. Half of all burglary, theft, shoplifting and robbery is committed by people suffering from serious addiction to drugs including heroin and crack cocaine. Every three days in the West Midlands somebody dies from drug poisoning, while organised criminals are profiting from this misery. This failure means the public put up with more crime, public services are put under more strain, and not enough is done to reduce the harm of those suffering from addiction. I recently visited Switzerland to see first-hand how initiatives like Heroin Assisted Treatment are cutting crime, saving lives and reducing the burden on the tax payer.

Durham Police, Crime and Victims' Commissioner Ron Hogg said:

Despite all the efforts to reduce the supply and the demand of illicit drugs, drug misuse continues, and this is why we have come up with Checkpoint. If the aim is to stop people taking drugs, and stop people committing crime in order to fund their habit, we must follow the evidence and support people to reduce their drug misuse rather than send them to prison. This is why I remain fully committed to implementing evidence-based early intervention strategies with the aim to divert individuals from the Criminal Justice Systems and to receive positive outcomes for victims. This is crucial to get to the root causes of involvement in crime and to prevent problems before they escalate, which ultimately cost society and the taxpayer more to fix. It makes sound economic sense.

Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner, David Munro, said:

The needs of those struggling with severe alcohol and drug issues are often very complex and can leave them feeling extremely vulnerable and isolated. With the current strain on public agencies such as police and health, it is difficult to find a service that can meet those demands which is why this project is so important. The Catalyst High Impact scheme provides a unique service which is helping people recover and rebuild their lives while aiming to lessen the impact they may have on local communities and reducing crime as a result.