Comment from the substance misuse sector

Letters and comment

LettersDDN welcomes your Letters Please email the editor,, or post them to DDN, CJ Wellings Ltd, 57 High Street, Ashford, Kent TN24 8SG. Letters may be edited for space or clarity.

Game changer

I was brought up in the care system due to my mother committing suicide. Mum was an addict and dad was an alcoholic, so my childhood was pretty messy. By the time I was 13 years old, I had lived with ten different foster carers, including two kids’ homes.

I was running from the pain of my past, hurting others and myself. I was a heavy drug user and always in trouble with the police. I have lived in prison for two years and make no excuses for my crime – however I do believe there is a strong link between crime, addiction and mental health. Before coming to prison I tried so hard to get help, but my funding to rehabilitation was blocked because I was unstable.

While living in prison I have been shocked at the lack of interventions to cure people of crime and drugs. It is too focused on punishment, rather than using the time for great work. More than 70 per cent of people in prison have addiction issues and many suffer mental health problems.

The government drug strategy sets out ambition to tackle substance abuse by building recovery communities within prisons and beyond, but I am saddened at the lack of recovery groups, which could seriously reduce the reoffending rate. Is it really so difficult to start some serious joint working? It breaks my heart to think of men locked in a cell 23 hours a day when we could be using this time to help them – not to mention the annual £40,000 cost to the taxpayer.

Askham Grange is the prison that has changed my thinking and behaviour because staff encourage you to believe you can be a constructive member of society. It has a six per cent reoffending rate compared to the national 60 per cent and was awarded ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted twice within two years. Our prisons should be places where people recover, rehabilitate and move away from crime. The staff here make us realise teamwork is essential in keeping our environment friendly, safe and secure. I feel I now have a future away from crime, drugs and poverty.

The prison has a project called ‘Me, No Way’, where prisoners talk to kids in schools – an emotional experience that really makes you feel part of our community.

We also have a mother and baby unit and the gym courses are excellent – an opportunity that also steers people away from crime and drug-fuelled hostels.

I now have a university degree and would like to develop a social enterprise that employs ex-offenders. Askham Grange has made me believe I am a winner, not a loser, and that I can help others. On behalf of all prisoners, I would like to thank the staff here for seeing us as human beings who have the power to change and become better people.

I hope this letter reaches the eyes of those who have the power to change things. Politicians and commissioners could learn so much from the long-term benefits of Askham Grange.

Paula Wainwright, HMP Askham Grange


Where’s the logic?

I’ve just been reading the latest in a long line of letters by Ken Eckersley, CEO of Addiction Recovery Training. In the recent letter (DDN, July/August, page 9) he is onside with Neil McKeganey, calling for ‘regular’ and ‘exhaustive’ drug-testing in UK prisons.

Having worked with class A drug using offenders for over five years it’s clear that something is wrong in our prison system, but I staunchly believe more prohibitive measures are not the answer.

Where does it begin and where does it end? Do you propose testing for every single drug? Because, in my experience, if folk want to use, addict or not, they will find a way. One only has to look at the extensive list of illicit prescription drugs that are currently being used and abused. Or are we to outlaw the use of every pharmaceutical drug too? Prohibition is not a deterrent and I don’t believe it ever truly will be.

It’s a cliché, but change comes from within. Good people can be around that person before they are ready – and good people can be around them when it’s time to help realise that change, but no amount of therapeutic coercion or ‘immediate transfer’ will support that change. I have never heard of demoralisation and lack of autonomy being supportive factors in people’s recovery.

Another thing to note is that when mandatory testing for cannabis was introduced, the fallout was such that many inmates who had never used anything but cannabis in jail turned to heroin, as it left their system quicker. What happened next was they left prison with a heroin habit to feed and, for many, this began the ‘revolving door’ of years in and out of prison. So I fail to see how the proposals are either ‘effective’ or ‘logical’.

Ken ends his letter on a real bum note when he cites China and the US as countries to look to; China with human rights violations galore and the latter being the proud offender of incarcerating more people than anywhere else in the world, many of whom are serving time for non-violent drug offences, with some on life without parole for possession.

For an alternative DVD recommendation please watch The House I Live In and check the logic.

Support don’t punish!

Jesse Fayle, student mental health nurse and former criminal justice recovery practitioner/DIP worker


Khat question

What has been the outcome of the UK government’s khat ban? This is an example of the sort of research question that home secretaries like Theresa May are typically uninterested in, and which is therefore far less likely to receive public funding.

By contrast, successive governments encouraged reports that aimed to demonstrate that khat chewing was dangerous and should be banned. When the reports concluded that a ban wasn’t necessary, they waited a bit then commissioned another report. In the end, khat was banned irrespective of research that was ambiguous about the harms at best.

But if the harms were so serious that culturally embedded traditions of British Somalis and Yemenis should be criminalised, it seems equally important to find out whether the policy has been effective and whether these harms have now been reduced. Not to do so might even be construed as a racist oppression of these minorities by the British state.

For example, has khat dependence among the affected adults declined? Or have people just switched to illicit khat, or alternative stimulants that increase harm? Has there been a decline in community cohesion (because khat chewing is traditionally a social activity; not unlike going to the pub for many other British people)? How does the ban mediate the drug-taking careers of second generation Yemeni and Somali youth ie was khat chewing protective against the use of other widely available illicit drugs, or did it provide a gateway to more problematic drug taking?

I have no expectation that these questions will ever be deemed worthy of the sort of public funding considered necessary before khat was banned. But I think they are interesting to highlight, because of the way they add to the evidence that knowledge production is biased towards answers that serve a specific agenda. Bias that – in this case – can contribute to forms of cultural oppression, which might even be relevant to broader narratives on the production of terror.

Neil Hunt, Kent


False results

I see that you reported the drug-driving figures from the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) as have other publications (DDN, July/August, page 4). They give the numbers arrested, not charged, and not the number found guilty or not guilty.

At this stage if they have tested presumed positive roadside, they would have a further test to confirm the result.

Are these figures available? They should be – after all, some would have been arrested and put through the courts in March.

My concern is that the initial tests are prone to false results, and in this case it would be false positives. (You will never know of the false negatives!)

David Mackenzie, by email