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Probation and drug addicts – report

Drug-related crime causes widespread misery and costs the public purse more than £9bn a year. Yet focus and funding are lacking across the criminal justice system to tackle drug use and supply. The system is not working well.

So said the Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell after his inspectorate published a report on drug treatment and recovery work with people on probation. He said: “Probation services have an important role to play in supporting positive change for individuals caught up in drugs and their supply.

“The new Probation Service must strengthen every aspect of its work with drug users. It needs to build a comprehensive picture of this crime-generating cohort and commission the right services to reduce their drug use. Justice and health organisations must work more closely together, for example to ensure continuity of support for prison leavers.”

Mr Russell added: “Earlier this year, the government provided additional funding to improve drugs treatment. While the announcement was welcome, the money is for just one year – we need sustained commitment to fund drug treatment and recovery for people on probation.

“I welcome Dame Carol Black’s recent call for additional ring-fenced government funding for substance misuse treatment. People on probation should be an urgent priority for any future increase in investment, which would cut crime, save lives and more than pay for itself in the long run.”

The Coalition government’s ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ split up and part-privatised probation services across England and Wales in 2014. The probation service was unified and put back into the public sector in June 2021.

The inspectors found probation services often overstretched. Practitioners did not always have the time to examine someone’s ‘back story’ and identify what could help support them into recovery, stay safe and move away from drug-related offending, according to the report. Criminal justice programmes to identify and refer people for treatment have “withered on the vine”, the inspectors found.


Probation services across England and Wales supervise nearly 156,000 people. HM Inspectorate of Probation estimates that almost 75,000 of these individuals have a drugs problem, yet fewer than 3,000 people were referred by probation services to specialist drug misuse treatment in 2019/20, according to its report, with the UK regulator the Care Quality Commission. You can read the joint thematic inspection of community-based drug treatment and recovery work with people on probation, at

For Dame Carol Black’s review of misuse of illegal drugs in England, visit


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