Pubdate: October 17, 1999
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: Guardian Media Group plc. 1999
Author: Martin Bright


Drugs do not suck people into a life of crime, according to a report to be
published by the Home Office tomorrow. The findings contradict the
traditional view that taking cocaine, crack and heroin causes criminal

The report shows that the overwhelming majority of offenders involved in
drug-related offences started their criminal careers long before their
habits got out of control. A third of all property crime is thought to be
drug-related but in many cases it was found that shoplifting and burglary
provided criminals with the means to start their drug habit in the first

'There is a very strong link between crime and drug use but the link is
complex. A drug career is helped by crime and a crime career is helped by
drugs,' said Mike Hough, director of the Criminal Policy Research Unit at
South Bank University, which carried out the study for the Home Office.
'But the commonly held belief that people are dragged into a life of crime
is not accurate.'

Although around a million people in Britain use illegal drugs, the Home
Office report says that a minority of 100,000 hardened users are
responsible for the majority of drug-related crime.

The report urges a greater understanding of the complex relationship
between drugs and crime and a major extension of programmes to treat
offenders with drug problems, many of whom receive no help when they enter
the criminal justice system.

In one of the largest investigations into drug-related crime yet,
researchers at the Criminal Policy Unit analysed the effectiveness of
treatment programmes for people who were found to be using drugs on arrest,
drug-using offenders on probation and prisoners with drug problems.

Research into schemes in London, Brighton and Derby found that treatment
substantially reduced levels of crime and drug use.

On average, the amount spent per week on drugs fell by pounds 400 to less
than pounds 100 within nine months. Over the same period, 40 per cent of
those on the schemes stopped their involvement in property theft. Half of
prisoners in the survey stopped drug use altogther after treatment.

Drug use became a problem for most in their early twenties, although the
average age of first criminal convictions was 17. Only 13 per cent said
their drug problems pre-dated the time they got into trouble with the law.

Most of those passing through the schemes were white working-class men in
their late twenties with a long history of drug use.

Home Office Minister Charles Clarke will launch the report tomorrow and is
likely to use its findings to justify a massive extension of schemes to
test suspects on arrest and send them for immediate drug treatment.

The Government has already provided pounds 20 million to pay for arrest
referral schemes and plans to extend court powers to order offenders
convicted of drug-related crime to undergo treatment in the community. As a
result, the number of workers involved in such schemes will rise from 15 to
55 in London from April next year.

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