18 Aug 2021

Offenders on probation not receiving help they need to tackle drug misuse, says watchdog

About half the people being supervised by the Probation Service in England and Wales have drug problems. But only 2 per cent of them are being referred for drug treatment.

That’s according to a report from the Chief Inspector of Probation, who says the system lacks the focus and funding necessary to tackle the problem, at huge cost to wider society.

In Preston, one group is trying to help freed offenders avoid returning to a life of drugs and crime.

Matthew Parry was just 10 when he was put in a secure unit after assaulting a member of staff in his care home.

He said: “I’ve actually got a picture of it still [his mugshot] and I treasure it because I’ve come a long way since then.”

He added: “I’ve always felt and got the impression that [the probation service] was there just to chuck me back in jail. I always felt there was no help.

“I take responsibility for all my crimes and everything. I actually have done most of my things as a cry for help.”

The probation inspector’s report found that in prison, most of those who needed drug treatment got it.

But that stopped once they were released. Of the 75,000 people on probation, fewer than 3,000 were offered help. According to inspectors, drug treatment programmes had withered on the vine.

Justin Russell, HM chief inspector of probation, said: “Lack of money is a big part of it. The drug services commissioners that we spoke to said they’ve all seen funding cuts over the last five to 10 years and that’s had a real impact on services.”

‘It’s a start’

Peter Yarwood served time in prison and now runs the charity Red Rose Recovery, working with the probation service to keep people off drugs and out of prison.

He’s welcomed an extra £80 million from the government for drug treatment services.

He said: “I think it’s a start. But still, many of our people have got an illness and they don’t know they’ve got an illness and that illness manifests in a way that is perceived as though it’s a choice and anybody else with an illness, will be treated with compassion.”

He added: “Statistics show within the first couple of weeks [of leaving prison], people take their own lives and they do that because they’ve got no hope.”

The government says it’s taken on 1,000 new probation officers to improve the service, but staff are still feeling “overstretched” and “undervalued” according to their union.

Katie Lomas, of the Napo union, which represents thousands of members working in probation and family courts, said: “Yes, more money now is being put in and more people are being recruited now.

“But it’s not enough to replace what has been lost in the last seven to 10 years, when many experienced staff have taken early retirement or left to go and work in other jobs because of privatisation.”

She added: “Some staff are working with 70 or even more clients at any one time. It’s impossible to provide a reasonable level of service.”

Glenn Ireland is an example of how lives can be turned around with the right support. He’s lost count of the number of times he was sent to prison. Now he’s got a full time job working alongside probation, prison and police officers.

He said: “That’s all I needed was that opportunity to grow. And I think that for me, in essence, it saved my life because I could have either been dead or serving a long, long time in prison.”


If you have been affected by any of the issues in this report there is information available at channel4.com/support