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Alcohol & Other Drugs, Criminal Justice, News & Media

Cranstoun Response to the Swift, Certain, Tough. New Consequences to Drug Possession Report

Posted on: 19 July, 2022

Yesterday, the Government released their long awaited white paper which aims to curb recreational drug use through “tough consequences”, essentially encompassing a new approach which leans on work developed by Cranstoun, among others, around diversion schemes.The report highlights the need to examine existing evidence-bases in police-led diversion, referencing the DIVERT programme in the West Midlands and West Mercia, demonstrating the strong interest in diversion-successes.


Cranstoun welcomes elements of the paper, titled Swift, Certain, Tough. New Consequences for Drug Possession – most notably the acceptance that the current approach is not working. The sentiment communicates that pragmatic approaches, focusing on the root cause of drugs, are required in place of reactive measures, which can feed cycles of crime. 


Whilst the overarching three-tiered approach is intended to provide a coherent alternative to current punishments for drug possession, there are a number of key factors, and unintended consequences, that must be considered in the consultation phase of this policy, particularly given that primary legislation is required in relation to areas of this approach.


Given Cranstoun’s unique multi-pronged experience in service design, service delivery, analysis and policy, here is our take on how this could be improved:


Firstly, the recognition from the relevant department for dealing with issues of crime and drugs – the Home Office – that the current approach is not working, is a welcome development. There are clearly efforts from researchers to study evidence to improve outcomes, but many emerging diversion schemes are in their infancy, meaning a meaningful evaluation of efficacy is hard to measure.


Cranstoun has successfully run the DIVERT programme in the West Midlands and West Mercia Police areas, demonstrating that a pre-arrest model, involving no criminal justice footprint, is a proven winner in terms of reducing reoffending, boosting engagement rates and saving the taxpayer money. DIVERT reduces demand on policing and the wider criminal justice system, reducing significant cost, crime and harm whilst delivering a meaningful intervention rooted in education and harm reduction. We will champion a Whole System approach which focuses on harm reduction, as we know this is effective.


Cranstoun firmly believes that any diversion model should not involve financial penalties, which can create a system whereby those who pay can avoid further sanctions, whilst those who cannot pay suffer further criminality. In short, you should not be able to buy your way out of the criminal justice system Whilst unintended, the knock-on effect of the proposed model would likely result in an inherent unfairness negatively impacting certain cohorts – namely young Black men between 18 – 35 using cannabis – and could credibly be labelled as criminalising poverty. With inflation expected to rise by up to 11% next year and many worried about their spiralling costs, this is of particular concern.


Whilst our position around solutions differs to the authors, the paper shows an admirable attempt to create a uniformed response ensuring that the consequences for using illicit drugs are the same up-and-down the country, removing postcode lotteries to policing. However, whilst DIVERT’s success is highlighted in the paper, this could have the unintended consequence of making the situation worse where effective diversion is already in place. In short, schemes like DIVERT are proven and already in place, whilst this is new territory.


The DIVERT scheme is underpinned by a key aim to address the underlying root cause of potential drug use, and as such allows people caught up to go through the system more than once. We have a database, encompassing thousands of referrals, which demonstrates that a voluntary programme yields greater engagement rate. This saves police time and reduces reoffending, and we strongly implore the government to consider an approach which allows for multiple opportunities to divert that is rooted in the evidence base from across the world of successful interventions. 


The proposed model put forward in the white paper aims to address issues related to “recreational” as opposed to “dependent” drug use, but there is no clear distinction on how someone caught with drugs is determined. In its current form, the lack of a clear, definable explanation as to how people caught in possession are grouped, could create confusion and potentially result in what could be deemed unfair outcomes.


Yesterday’s white paper recommends that drug testing on arrest – known as DToA – should be expanded beyond the testing for opiates and cocaine and include wider class A drugs and cannabis. This development could see significant net-widening, resulting in an increased workload for the police forces conducting testing and subsequent consequences. The Cranstoun Arrest Referral delivery model allows for engagement with people who use alcohol and other drugs by engagement on a voluntary basis. During the recent pandemic this was evidenced with high levels of engagement within custody whilst DToA was paused. 


The white paper includes consequences including the removal of passports and driving licenses for those on tier-3 of the scheme. This development is worrying for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is likely that the removal of driving licenses could hugely influence the ability of the person to continue working, whilst the weakening of rights for people who use drugs is also of grave concern. Furthermore, the reliance of an enormous inter-departmental operation would prove costly, inefficient and confusing. The removal of ID documents – and blocking of obtaining new documents – would involve communications between the Home Office, Passport Office and DVLA potentially creating a myriad of issues. Given our experience of delivering interventions from pre arrest through the criminal justice system, the cost of this far outweighs any potential benefits and is unlikely to reduce drug taking. 


Swift, Certain, Tough also raises questions around responsibilities and duties. The model, at this consultation phase, has not unpacked where responsibility lies and could increase workloads for our already overstretched criminal justice and policing systems. A major benefit of the DIVERT programme and the Cranstoun Arrest Referral Service is it is proven to save police time and time and demand on the wider criminal justice system. This allows police, probation and the courts to focus on serious and violent crime, and ensures officer buy-in whilst highlighting the merits of police-led reform. Our approach is also proven to reduce reoffending far more effectively than more traditional punitive approaches. 


In addition to the removal of passports, it is recommended that people on Tier-3 of the scheme are restricted in where they can go – with potential bans on international travel, football matches and nightclubs. Cranstoun believes that these measures will not reduce “recreational” drug use, but will instead increase harm as people are forced to use drugs in unlicensed venues or at home, potentially alone. The cost should also be considered in how this would be policed when an evidence based alternative through both DIVERT and CARS already exists. 


Cranstoun’s approach to diversion is underpinned fundamentally by addressing root causes, and is not centred around criminal threats. Overarchingly, this report’s model is still developed through the lens of criminalisation as an ultimate-punishment, whilst it should instead be focusing on reducing reoffending, improving lives and saving the taxpayer money.


Overall, Cranstoun implores the shift towards forms of diversion, but firmly believes that the model put forward could be significantly improved, by borrowing elements of existing models – such as DIVERT and the Cranstoun Arrest Referral Service. No diversion model should involve financial penalties, the removal of basic rights that could impinge on the ability to work or increase workloads for stretched departments. The financial burden of this would outweigh any potential benefits, with other forms of diversion already proven to save money to wider society and save police time. 


Cranstoun will put forward our case for changes through the consultation, which can be found here, and we remain hopeful that necessary changes will be made ahead of implementation. We will continue to champion a Whole System approach to drug use, which empowers power and empowers change.

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