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16th November 2015

Helping offenders control their drinking

by Jane McCaskill, probation service officer

MOST people drink alcohol, and most do so without any problems. We all know that a drink can sometimes help us to unwind or to relax with friends.

Drinking in moderation is unlikely to lead to problems. But heavy drinking, getting drunk, or drinking at the wrong time or in the wrong place, can lead to a whole range of difficulties.

The amount of alcohol-related crime nationally is staggering, and below are some statistics taken from the latest crime figures:

  • 53 per cent of violent incidents involving adults were alcohol-related, eg. 704,000 crimes were directly linked to alcohol consumption
  • alcohol-related crime costs the country £11bn per year
  • nearly a fifth (19 per cent) of all adult binge drinkers reported committing an offence in the previous year compared with six per cent of “regular” drinkers and three per cent of those who occasionally or never drank alcohol.
  • there were 9,930 casualties as a direct result of drink driving accidents in the UK, including 230 who were killed and 1,200 who suffered serious injury.

I am the “lead” at Warrington probation for cases with an Alcohol Treatment Requirement (ATR) as part of their orders. Those that do not have an ATR as part of their order may have alcohol work identified as part of their Rehabilitation Activity Requirement (RAR) and they also come my way. Their alcohol related offences might be for violence – including domestic abuse; public order offences; drink driving or acquisitive offences such as burglary or shoplifting.

Having worked with offenders who have had problems with alcohol for some time now, I can honestly say that there is no “one size fits all” approach to getting them to address their problem drinking and thereby reduce their risk of re-offending.

My caseload ranges from “street drinkers” who have been homeless for years, committing public order offences and acquisitive crime – to professional people who feel their drinking is perfectly “normal” and only realise it is a problem when they are convicted of a drink driving offence.

Two of the offenders I am currently working with – Jack and Geoff – illustrate this fact. Jack is a young man who has a binge drinking problem, so that sometimes when he drinks he carries on drinking until he blacks out. Alcohol can sometimes make him argumentative and violent. On these occasions he smashes things, quite often in the family home, and that puts his mother and younger siblings in fear of what else he might do.

Jack was sentenced to a 12 month Community Order for criminal damage at his mother’s address, and we have spent sessions looking at the “why, when and where” of this and previous offences, and the protective measures he can put in place so he knows when he needs to stop drinking, or remove himself from the property.

Jack has progressed really well on his order so far. He has been honest and has admitted that he has a drink problem – which is a difficult thing to do – and he is aware that he needs to get to the root of the problem to prevent further re-offending. This work includes attending group sessions at our local alcohol service provider, and work on emotional management skills as part of our one to one sessions.

Geoff was sentenced to a 12 month Community Order for making hoax 999 calls when he was drunk. Geoff has a history of alcohol related offending going back over 20 years, and he has consistently failed to engage with any community orders or treatment providers. This has led to him serving over 25 short custodial sentences where he has been released into the community with no support or supervision. When he appeared in court for his current offence, Geoff was made aware that in line with the new Offender Rehabilitation Act; even if he was given a short prison sentence he would still be released with a 12 month requirement to work with the CGM CRC. Geoff reluctantly agreed to comply with a community sentence.

It is early days with Geoff, and most of our meetings so far have been spent trying to gain his trust, and building up a working relationship. So far Geoff is unwilling to work with alcohol services, and we have to have our meetings first thing in the morning as he becomes nervous and agitated if he has to be in the company of other offenders. My hope is that together Geoff and I can work out strategies for him to reduce his alcohol use to safer levels, and that he can learn to manage his limited finances so that he does not need to offend to fund his alcohol.

A large part of supervision is being friendly, supportive and listening, without being judgemental so that offenders are prepared to work with you and don’t want to re-offend. This is especially important with those who have problems with alcohol. They are quite often in denial about the levels of their drinking, and suspicious of criminal justice and health professionals. Sometimes progress is painfully slow, but it is really rewarding to see the lifestyle changes that can be made with the right support.

Offenders might also be sentenced to one of our alcohol related programmes, such as: Building Skills for Recovery (BSR), where offenders are offered a route out of alcohol or drug dependency; Control of Violence for Angry Impulsive Drinkers (COVAID), for male offenders who have committed a violent crime after drinking alcohol; and Drink Impaired Drivers (DIDS), for offenders convicted of drink driving.

I work with my offenders on a one-to-one basis, as well as in partnership with our local alcohol service for those who have been given an ATR as part of their order. For those cases with alcohol work as part of a RAR, I am able to refer them to agencies we work with for additional support if I feel it is required.