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New court approach helping get offenders off drugs

Offenders with drug and alcohol problems are being put back on the straight and narrow through a new US-inspired sentencing approach to cut reoffending.

A pilot of ‘Intensive Supervision Courts’ launched last year in Liverpool, Teesside and Birmingham courts, as part of a tough community sentencing approach to tackle the root causes of offenders’ behaviour and protect the public. 

Since the launch in June 2023, over 55 offenders have been ordered to meet regularly with the same judge, engage with specialist treatment and been subject to enhanced supervision including random drug testing from the Probation Service. The order could also include an electronic tag to monitor compliance and track their every move.

Studies show that getting offenders to confront their addiction through specialist support helps drive down their chance of committing further crimes. Research from several countries suggests that on average a ‘problem-solving’ approach resulted in a 33% decrease in the rate of arrests compared to offenders who receive standard sentences.  

Offenders who fail to comply with the order face tough sanctions such as being temporarily sent to prison or increased drug testing. 

The Lord Chancellor, Alex Chalk KC, visited Liverpool Crown Court yesterday (22 February 2024) to see the substance misuse court in action.

Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Alex Chalk KC, said:  

These courts are addressing the drug and alcohol-related crimes which blight our communities by getting offenders to confront their addictions.

Offenders are being punished for their crime, but these tough community sentences are also working to ensure they don’t offend again.

The Lord Chancellor’s visit to Liverpool follows his trip to New York last month where he saw how problem-solving courts in the United States are working.  

At the courts in Manhattan and Brooklyn, the Lord Chancellor met with judges and learned more about the evidence behind the problem-solving approach. A US study on the long-term effect of a similar court saw 25% fewer drug charges over a 15-year period and these American courts provided inspiration for the pilot in England. 

In Liverpool, the Lord Chancellor met ‘Liam’ (not his real name) who was sentenced to this order after being found guilty of an offence driven by his addiction. 

Offender Liam said:

This is the only sentence that’s actually given me a chance, for the first time in my life I have had clean drug tests. You can just tell the team here really want you to do well which makes a difference.

The initiative at Liverpool and Teesside Crown Courts are focused on offenders whose addictions are driving their criminality and a further court is being piloted at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court specifically supporting female offenders.   

Charity Revolving Doors said:

CFE Research, Revolving Doors and Institute for Lifecourse Development at the University of Greenwich are proud to be undertaking a ground-breaking study of the piloting of this approach for the UK. 

The evaluation provides an important opportunity to add to the evidence base on approaches to addressing offending behaviour that is driven by unmet health and social needs.

Further information

  • Please note that the data relating to how many offenders have been sentenced through the pilot is based on administrative data which may not be complete and is subject to change.
  • Kearley, B. & Gottfredson, D. (2020). Long term effects of drug court participation: Evidence from a 15-year follow-up of a randomised controlled trial. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 16, 27-47.
  • Trood, M., Spivak, B., & Ogloff, J. (2021). A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of judicial supervision on recidivism and well-being factors of criminal offenders. Journal Of Criminal Justice, 74, 101796.
Channel website: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ministry-of-justice

Original article link: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-court-approach-helping-get-offenders-off-drugs

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