Posted on: 14 October, 2022
The deadline to submit evidence to the Home Office’s Consultation for the ‘Swift, Certain, Tough: New Consequences for Drug Possession’ white paper closed on Monday. Cranstoun submitted a host of advisory amendments and offered insights from our work on DIVERT in West Mercia and the West Midlands, with the respective Police & Crime Commissioners.
We eagerly await potential amendments from the Home Office, particularly around: the removal of financial punishments, the confiscation of personal documents, the ability to divert multiple times, and further clarity regarding both the type of education delivered, and the triage for determining dependency or recreational use.
As previously highlighted, there is potential for the white paper to develop into a scheme that saves taxpayer money, reduces reoffending and helps to achieve the overarching aims of the Harm to Hope 10 year strategy.
The direction of this white paper connotes a genuine attempt to address the issues related to the policing of drugs for possession offences. Whilst many facets of the proposal highlighted previously must be addressed, there is a golden opportunity to provide a solution that will be a marked improvement on the current situation.
Below is a summary around some key points highlighted in our response to the consultation.
Cranstoun approaches policy through a pragmatic lens, which is realistic and rooted in existing evidence. We believe that, at this moment in time, a person caught in possession of an illicit substance should be diverted away from the criminal justice system, and through effective drug awareness courses. Leading examples of such schemes include the DIVERT scheme which we deliver, commissioned by the West Midlands and West Mercia Police & Crime Commissioners.
There is a strong evidence base to demonstrate that this approach saves the taxpayer money, and allows police to go after more serious, violent crime. Cranstoun’s DIVERT scheme has seen over 5,000 referrals into the scheme with excellent results.
Expansion of DIVERT & Evaluate Against Existing Schemes
The streamlining of diversion across England and Wales could help to eradicate the current postcode lottery system – something highlighted multiple times in the White Paper. However, it is also worth highlighting that where evidence-based, successful diversion is already in place, that this should not be replaced with something that has not yet been tested.
Rather, further expansion of DIVERT will provide ample evidence for the government to deliver on saving taxpayer money, reducing harm and crucially reducing the illicit drug supply.
For example, if diversion is piloted nationwide, then as opposed to replacing the DIVERT program, the focus should instead be on evaluating the efficacy of successful schemes and learning from those schemes that are already in place. Places where ADDER is currently being trialled could be evaluated against the DIVERT model to identify best practice, which can inform the long-term strategy for diversion.
A nationwide pilot scheme of DIVERT is recommended by Cranstoun over a brand new scheme that does not have a real-life evidence base to lean on.
Education Provides a Golden Opportunity
The type of education delivered is paramount to the success of reducing harm, saving taxpayer money and improving the wellbeing of people engaged in the scheme. According to our DIVERT data, 90% of those diverted will have never spoken to a professional about their drug use, so there is a golden opportunity to reduce further harm down the line1. This key intervention could reduce the burden on health and policing services, in turn saving taxpayer money. This will also be fundamental to achieving the overarching aim of the Harm to Hope strategy, which is to reduce drug use and consequentially the illicit market.
Educating people who use drugs on their harms in an honest, realistic and considered manner can have profound effects on the way someone views their usage patterns, as this may well be the first time that the person has spoken to a relevant professional about drug use.
The education program must deliver effective harm reduction information and training. Whilst some of those diverted may not use drugs again, based on the government figures it is almost certain that at least one individual on any given day will use a substance again – irrespective of whether they are diverted or not. Drug education is fundamental to reducing harm, reducing fatalities and improving wellbeing generally.
Triage for Determining Dependency and Recreational Use
Greater credence must be given to the process of triage to determine recreational use against dependency. Whilst determining dependency is nuanced, there must be structures in place to reduce unconscious bias, and ensure that there is a fair and equal system. A roundtable of stakeholders should be assembled to determine the distinction between recreational and dependent, if there are mitigating considerations, and what potential scenarios require further research and thought. This should happen prior to the commencement of the proposed scheme.
When conducting a triage in practice, there must be consideration as to who is in charge of this, and how can it be as consistent as possible across all forces, irrespective of the race, gender or ethnicity of the person. This should be regularly monitored, and thoroughly evaluated to ensure best practice.
It is also advised that those leading the research conduct an equality impact assessment.
The Unintended Cost of Financial Punishments for Individuals
A major strength of the White Paper is its mission to eventually end the postcode lottery of policing drugs by streamlining and homogenising the process across England and Wales. Deciding whether a person caught in possession of drugs should enter into the criminal justice system because of their ability to pay a fee creates an unfair system, which will only benefit those who can afford to pay their way out.
According to a wealth of data across the UK, those from non-white backgrounds, particularly of black ethnicity, are less likely to have financial security2. There is also racial disproportionality in the number of stop and searches undertaken on black people, compared to white people. A nationwide estimate found that you are around nine times more likely to be stopped and searched if you are black compared to if you are white3.
The Lammy Review in 2018 found you are no more likely to be carrying a substance if you are black compared to if you are white4. In essence, this means that you are significantly more likely to be caught up in the Criminal Justice System, and in turn significantly more likely to encounter financial punishment.
Hence, if one is more likely to be stopped and searched, and is statistically more likely to be caught in possession of a substance (despite being no more likely to possess a substance), and in addition is less likely to be able to pay a financial punishment, the ensuing result will be a furthering of racial disproportionality in the criminal justice system. The individual and societal impact may be unfair, unequal and overarchingly negative.
If the aim of the government is to level up the country on an even kilter, then financial punishments must be avoided at all costs.
Cranstoun has run DIVERT successfully for over two years for the West Mercia and West Midlands Police and Police and Crime Commissioners, with preliminary data demonstrating the enormous benefits of the scheme. Cranstoun has been involved in pre-arrest drug diversion for years, including supporting the development of the Drugs Education Programme in Avon and Somerset and the introduction of pre-arrest drug diversion to Thames Valley Police.
The illicit drug market is worth an enormous £20 billion per year and the only way to address this is to reduce the number of people using drugs. Expending resources on simple possession offences will not help to achieve the aims of the ambitious Harm to Hope strategy, but our work highlights the solution. Through enormous cost savings, police will be able to target drug dealing, trafficking and surrounding crime.
DIVERT demonstrates that thorough drug education, necessary treatment and rehabilitation is a proven winner.
This saves the taxpayer money and allows the police to focus resources on organised criminal gangs who cause misery to society. Through DIVERT, the Home Office can achieve their goal of reducing usage and the size of the illicit drug market.
— Ends —
Cranstoun CEO, Charlie Mack, said: The white paper for Swift, Certain, Tough indicates that a new approach to the policing of the possession of drugs may be close, and we welcome the attempts to address this area. We implore the Home Office to consider our proposal amendments, such as the removal of financial penalties, and look to our DIVERT successes for the next phase of this policy proposal. This is a golden opportunity to assist in achieving the aims of the Harm to Hope strategy, if fine-tuned accordingly.