Recovery and Rehabilitation or throw away the key?

Addiction destroys individuals, their families, and whole communities. So in order to protect society should we just arrest addicts, put them in prison and throw away the key? Recent research has shown that some addictive behaviour is at least partly genetic, however it also affect individuals with no previous family history, suggesting that genes do not tell the whole story.

Having served as a police officer for twenty nine years I have personally witnessed the destruction that addiction causes: the criminal behaviour to fund the addiction, burglary victims who have had treasured possessions stolen, having to tell a mother that an alcoholic drink driver has killed her daughter, breaking into a bed-sit to try and save a heroin addict that had overdosed. The list goes on.

Evidence from various inspirational personal stories has shown me that recovery is possible. Destruction can be stopped and the experiences of the ex-addict can even strengthen their resolve to become a positive member of their communities.

So where is the onus on helping that individual change their pattern of offending and addiction?
• Is it on the person being released from prison and moving into a bedsit in a deprived area of a town?
• Is it on the professional delivering a ‘service’ Monday to Friday 9-5 but who returns home each day?
• Or is it on the wider community who live and breathe each day in their own neighbourhood, who access art and culture or sport and leisure activities? Who go to the local shops and schools? Who park their cars or catch the bus?

The answer is a combination of all three, alongside the following conditions:
• That the individual is on a personal recovery programme
• That they are in stable accommodation
• That they have positive peers to support them
• They have meaningful employment
• They are accepted and welcomed into the wider community

Recovering offenders and addicts need jobs, friends, accommodation and a supportive community. If they don’t have this support they may struggle as they often don’t have the background, or resilience to do it alone. Without support the pull of their addiction will inevitably draw them back to their former habits and relapses occur, moving them further away from stability and jeopardising any future opportunities for them, or indeed someone else in recovery.

This becomes a ‘catch 22’ situation as the wider community once bitten by the offending and anti-social behaviour associated with relapse reduces its tolerance and openness for offenders, seeing only the destruction of addiction rather than the potential of recovery, making it even harder for those leaving prison to be accepted. Without community support often the only people to welcome them back are the dealers, handlers, or fellow addicts and the cycle of addiction and offending quickly returns.

Since the mid 1990s we have been ‘throwing away the key’ and our prison population has doubled in number. We now know that there is a better, more compassionate way, but that will require the support from all of us as individuals and communities.

By Sergeant Steve Hodgkins – Lancashire Constabulary and Founder of Jobs, Friends & Houses CIC. Steve will be speaking about on citizenship and the rehabilitation of vulnerable populations at our Citizenship and Engaging Marginalised Populations event on April 5th: