Making rehab work for people involved with the justice system

Phoenix Futures recently launched a report looking at the state of residential treatment provision in England. Through a series of blogs and articles, Phoenix continues to explore the theme of Making Rehab Work.

The experiences of people involved with substances, crime and the justice system are complicated. Drug offences accounted for 16% of all prison sentences in the UK in 2021 and this figure does not account for the number of violent or acquisitive crimes where substances were involved. There is also growing concern for people exposed to substances during a custodial sentence, with UK government statistics showing that between 2014 and 2019 the proportion of people who developed a drug problem whilst in custody doubled from 8% to 15%.

At Phoenix Futures, our residential treatment services welcome residents directly from prison and many more who have had lived experience of the justice system in their past. To even talk about crime can feed into a stigmatising narrative that some people in society use against our residents, and so some of our current residents were kind enough to share their personal experiences to help us explore these complex issues.

Chelsea began taking drugs at 15, and by age 19 had received her first prison sentence. The following twenty years she described as a ‘revolving door’, only staying out of prison for a few months at a time before returning. She spoke of the complicated relationship she had with prison.

“Sometimes it was a relief to go back,” she said, “because I couldn’t get to rehab, I treated prison like a rehab. I knew I could get drugs in there if I wanted to, but I never chased it. I was actually clean when I was in there, I did well. Whenever I came out, my life was chaos.”

When asked whether prison had helped prepare Chelsea for rehab in any way, she was keen to emphasise the vast difference between the two settings.

“I thrived on the structure, the routine, the discipline in jail but in there nothing is expected of you. It’s not like being in rehab, where from the moment you wake up you have to think about how you feel and how you act.

“In jail, you have to put up a front and not let your guard down in order to protect yourself.”

Kelly too had a similar experience, using heroin at 14 and continuing until the day her son was born. Her first prison sentence came at age 17, and a further thirteen periods of imprisonment followed.

“In prison, I had walls and defences up. I wouldn’t stop and think,” she said. “In there you’re surrounded by people who don’t want to change. I wasn’t happy in that life, but you end up just accepting it.”

Many of the behaviours Kelly had adopted in prison were carried into her life after release, and despite her desire to access rehab with her son, it took some time for her to adjust.

“When I first came to rehab, I would kick off straight away if I didn’t like the answers from staff, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut,” she said. “But once you’ve built the trust, it is massive. In here you’re encouraged to change and challenge your behaviours, and you don’t realise they change until its done.”

Kelly continued, reflecting on how fortunate she felt that help was there at the right time in her life.

“Without my son I’d still be on the same path, using and going in and out of prison. Time is big, you don’t realise it’s running out. If I could do it over again, I would have surrounded myself with people who were better for me.”

Read the full blog post here.


DDN magazine is a free publication self-funded through advertising.

We are proud to work in partnership with many of the leading charities and treatment providers in the sector.

This content was created by Phoenix Futures

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