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
(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
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
An adequately funded health and treatment strategy
(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
(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
(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
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.
1. DPAS, Doing Justice to Treatment (1999).
2. DrugScope, Criminal Justice (2000)
3. London Drug Policy ForumDrug Users
and the Criminal Justice System (1997).
4. NapoSubmission to the House of
Commons Social Services Committee (1985).
5. NapoDrug Use and Custody Crisis
6. NapoSubstance Abuse and the Criminal
Justice System (1994).
7. DrugScopeRoom for ManoeuvreDorn
and Jamieson (2000).
8. TransformSubmission to the Home
Affairs Select Committee (2001).
9. DrugScopeEvidence to the Home
Affairs Select Committee (2001).