Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Napo


  It has been estimated by the Drugs Prevention Advisory Service1 DrugScope and others that there are in all probability between 100,000 and 200,000 drug users in England and Wales who finance their habit through persistent crime.2 The majority of those who are stealing to buy drugs are spending around £300 per week on their habit. This represents about 5 per cent of the total number of persons in Britain who use illicit drugs each year. The office of National Statistics estimated that the British illegal drugs market was worth between £4.3 and £9.9 billion in 1998.

  The DPAS have suggested that the bill to victims of crime exceeds £1.5 billion per annum. DrugScope estimate the value of stolen goods is anywhere between £2 and £2.5 billion per year. The Government now spends around £2 billion a year on enforcement, policing, treatment, research and prevention. The Government's 10-year strategy for tackling drug misuse notes that 75 per cent of expenditure is spent on enforcement and 25 per cent on prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. It is thought that about half all-acquisitive crime is now drug related. In 1997 the London Drug Policy Forum concluded that up to 20 per cent of all offenders passing through the Criminal Justice system in a typical inner London Borough were problem drug users3.

  The overwhelming majority of the drug users who commit offences are known to the probation service either as the subject of court reports, community supervision, through care or parole. The social, economic and health costs of this predicament are enormous.

  This group of offenders are also likely to smoke, to have acute problems with alcohol and their chaotic lifestyles are characterised by other socially deviant behaviour. Napo believes that many of those who are in this group were involved in crime before they became involved in drug misuse.


  In 1979, Napo called for the abolition of the possession of cannabis as a criminal offence. This was based on the view that there was no evidence to suggest that the social use of cannabis was dangerous or linked to criminal activity. At that time Napo took no view on the desirability of decriminalisation for the possession of other illicit substances.

  In 1985, Napo told the House of Commons Social Services Committee enquiry into drug abuse that the problems had markedly increased. "There is only going to be a substantial market for hard drugs whilst there remains a large population of disaffected young people ready to seek oblivion from their problems". What was needed Napo argued was a long-term strategy to tackle the causes of alienation. In the meantime Napo recommended that drug users should not face incarceration "possession of any drug should cease to be an imprisonable offence"4.

  In 1990 Napo highlighted deepening concern about the number of drug users sentenced to custody. A study undertaken in 25 jails indicated that up to 15,000 drug users where passing through the prison system each year. The estimate of the number of prisoners using drugs immediately prior to sentence varied from 5 to 40 per cent depending on the type of jail and location5. During the spring of 1994 a second study conducted in 18 probation areas and involving over 3,000 offenders on supervision found that up to 56 per cent of the case load had severe substance abuse problems with either drugs, alcohol or both. In one third of cases drugs was the major problem. The study further found that 41 per cent of those on supervision stole to maintain their addiction6.

  Napo has not conducted any systematic studies since that time but it remains clear that substance abuse and acquisitive crime are intrinsically linked. In recent times the Government have embarked on a number of initiatives including mandatory drug testing in prison and has given courts the power to sentence individuals to drug treatment and training orders and most recently drug abstinence orders.


  Napo has formed the view that treating substance abuse as a fundamental criminal act is deeply flawed. The National Treatment Outcome Research study concluded that every pound spent on treatment saves three pounds on criminal justice expenditure. Probation staff believe that drug misuse is a social and health problem. Most hard drug users have chaotic lifestyles characterised by poor physical and mental health, poor school experiences, poor employment records, insubstantial housing and a life of petty crime. In many cases it is difficult to establish which factor was the dominant cause of criminality.

  However, many government responses such as mandatory testing and drug abstinence orders punish the offender and his or her habit and don't tackle the underlying problems.

  The drug treatment and testing order does link cause and effect but maintains the criminal justice and punishment link. Napo was surprised that the DTTO was rolled out nationally before the pilot trials had been evaluated and only a small number of users had completed their orders. Napo fears that in the future treatment will be prioritised for those on court orders and that it will become a scarce resource for drug users who desire rehabilitation voluntarily. Probation staff are already reporting long delays of weeks and even months for those who wish to volunteer for treatment and many of them are resident in probation hostels.


  Napo believes that the key is to devise strategies which remove individuals from the illicit sub-culture of drug dependency through health, education and treatment programmes, and that if that were successful it would be a significant contributor towards the reduction of the criminal market.

  In pursuance of that objective Napo believes that there are two matters, which need to be addressed:

    (a)  the removal of individuals from court proceedings; and

    (b)  increased state involvement in reduction strategies, treatment, prescribed supply.


  Napo understands that the UK is bound under international treaties to criminalise the possession of narcotic and psychotropic drugs. However, the same study concludes that for possession, that there is no impediment to removing jail from the penalties available, it also concludes that administrative or civil sanctions could be used in cases of possession for personal consumption and that there is no bar in international law for administrative measures to be used in respect of small scale production7.

  Napo believes therefore that criminal proceedings should not be initiated for possession of small amounts of any drug for personal consumption, nor for the growing of small amounts of cannabis. Napo base this belief on the fact that there is no evidence that punishment or imprisonment reduces drug misuse, but on the contrary that access to treatment reduces criminal behaviour.


  There is in Napo view a clear need for investment in effective systems of treatment, regulation and control. Transform the campaign for effective drugs policy "have argued for . . ." an independent agency to oversee production supply and use of drugs. Napo understands that they argue that state manufacture and control would eliminate the criminal market8.

  DrugScope and others have argued that a treatment and health model aimed at reducing both the number of drug users and the level of individual consumption would be a preferred strategy9.

  Napo is of the view that such a model is more likely to command immediate public and political support and that it would involve greater emphasis on reduction, health and treatment of drug misusers. The Government should not rule out however the possibility of longer-term international efforts to control drug production.

  An adequately funded health and treatment strategy might include:

    (a)  investment in drug treatment services that meet local communities needs;

    (b)  research into current delay in accessing treatment and the implementation of strategies to make treatment immediately available;

    (c)  the abolition of the drug abstinence order, which is deeply flawed and makes the strange assumption that users will cease to take drugs if a magistrate tells them to do so;

    (d)  an independent audit of the effectiveness of the drug treatment and testing order;

    (e)  a controlled extension of the prescribing of injectable drugs including heroin;

    (f)  harm reduction programmes, which have been introduced over recent years, need to have substantial increased resourcing;

    (g)  it should be a mandatory duty for all agencies particularly schools that the effects of drug misuse be part of the syllabus and objectives; and

    (h)  the probation service, health, education, police, social services and other affected agencies should, as a priority, target the vulnerable and at risk young people to ensure that they are not excluded from society.


  It is clear that a large proportion of the probation caseload, which currently stands at around 170,000, commit crimes to finance a drug habit. The social and economic costs of these are huge. Napo believes that drug misuse is nevertheless a health and educational problem and not a matter for the courts and criminal justice system.

  Napo believes that court proceedings should not be instigated against individuals who are in possession of small amounts of any drug. There must be much greater emphasis on health, treatment, education and reduction strategies than at present. The issue of supply is complex and international. Nevertheless, treatment programmes could be substantially expanded and greater use could be made of the prescribing of certain drugs and drug substitutes. There also needs to be a greater degree of co-operation between all the agencies involved in dealing with problematic drug misusers and the development of common objectives and performance targets.

November 2001


  1.  DPAS, Doing Justice to Treatment (1999).

  2.  DrugScope, Criminal Justice (2000)

  3.  London Drug Policy Forum—Drug Users and the Criminal Justice System (1997).

  4.  Napo—Submission to the House of Commons Social Services Committee (1985).

  5.  Napo—Drug Use and Custody Crisis (1990).

  6.  Napo—Substance Abuse and the Criminal Justice System (1994).

  7.  DrugScope—Room for Manoeuvre—Dorn and Jamieson (2000).

  8.  Transform—Submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee (2001).

  9.  DrugScope—Evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee (2001).

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 22 May 2002