At Glasgow’s Drug Court, we saw how receiving a community based rather than a custodial sentence can help drug users to access practical support and to change their lives.
The Drug Court was initially set up as pilot service in 2001 along with a similar court in Fife (disbanded in 2013). Its aim has always been to reduce drug misuse and the offending linked to drug misuse. Consequently, community based sentences such as a Drug Treatment and Testing Order (DTTO) are based around practical treatments, compulsory drug testing on a twice weekly basis and regular attendance at court for reviews. A DTTO of up to eighteen months is a period of intense rehabilitation in the community supported by a team of social workers and addictions workers and is an alternative – not a substitute – for prison.
The court is different from the traditional set up in that the Sheriff addresses individuals from the bench, commending them when they’re doing well but also reprimanding them when they fail to demonstrate appropriate commitment. The Sheriff will often enquire how the individual is doing in other areas of their life including family relationships, employment and general health. Parents, partners and other family members can attend court in support of their loved ones and often the Sheriff will consult them directly in court in order to establish how the individual is progressing. The process is supportive and quite different from most people’s experience of the legal system. For example, people who complete their orders can ‘graduate’ from the Drug Court so that their success in becoming drug free and reducing their offending is publicly acknowledged and rewarded. This can have a tremendous impact on the self-esteem of individuals, particularly those whose experience of ‘authority’ in the past has not been positive and for whom the negative stigma of being a long time drug user is more familiar.
We were privileged to hear several success stories over the course of the day. One young man has had five negative drugs tests in a row and continues to make progress with the support of his partner (with whom he recently reconciled) and their young son. Another person is volunteering locally with his partner who also has drug issues. He reported that they are able to ‘keep each other right’ but are also trying out new things independently of each other. One person has had eleven negative drugs test in a row and was congratulated by the Sheriff. He asked for his community order to be reduced and the Sheriff agreed to consider this request in due course. When people have relapses, the Sheriff considers these within the context of their overall progress rather than automatically sending them to prison. For example, one person admitted a couple of ‘blips’ while on an order in Glasgow. However, the Sheriff chose not to rescind his order given his otherwise good progress. The individual plans to move back in with his formerly estranged partner in Ayrshire and it was agreed that he would continue to be monitored by social workers there.
The Drug Court can also increase support arrangements when individuals are struggling to meet the conditions of an existing order. For example, a person can have their Structured Deferred Sentence ‘converted’ to a Drug Treatment and Testing Order in order to access more help.
It’s not all good news. Where individuals fail to keep to the requirements of an order or commit an offence, they are immediately jailed. However, the Glasgow Drug Court is a great example of how the judiciary and the legal system in general can offer a more holistic approach to offenders.
A Scottish government review found that the main strengths of the Glasgow Drug Court are that it fast-tracks offenders into the courtroom, has a dedicated team who offer practical help and regular drug testing and has an efficient review system for every individual.
Thursday 22nd June 2017 from 9.30am to 12.30pm at Scottish Youth Theatre, Glasgow
The third learning network event will focus on the initial findings of our pilot study which provides small one off payments to individuals involved with criminal justice services. Although our pilot study is not self directed support in the strictest sense (i.e. none of our participants are currently in receipt of SDS funding), our aim is to investigate and illustrate how small sums of money might increase individuals choice and control over their lives with a view to making a positive impact on their offending behaviour. For example, how did the process work? What kind of things did individuals want? What did we learn? What would we change the next time?
We have worked in partnership with a number of third and public sector criminal justice organisations including SACRO, Crossreach, Glasgow City Council and Scottish Prison Service. In addition, our participant workshop sessions were facilitated by Diversity Matters at www.diversity-matters.co.uk
For further information and to book online please click here.
On a recommendation from Debbie McColgan of Inspiring Scotland, I met with Pat Black of Diversity Matters, a voluntary sector organisation based in Edinburgh that builds capacity, facilitates project design, provides training and brings individuals and organisations together to examine ideas and find creative solutions to identified issues.
Diversity Matters work with individuals to identify what makes a good purposeful life for them and with organisations and agencies (e.g. social work departments) to investigate how to accommodate these elements within existing structures and processes.
Some innovative examples of individuals using a ‘personalised’ approach include a former addict who had retrained as a fitness instructor and wanted to cover up older unwanted tattoos that didn’t fit her new more positive body image. Another person needed oils and equipment to train as an acupuncturist and set up her own business. Subsequently she offered free sessions to other former drug users in exchange for the use of a treatment room in a recovery based organisation. One woman wanted to get a passport so she could go abroad for the first time in her life.
A number of small grants (e.g. £100-£200 per person) helped to make these things possible. Perhaps surprisingly, individuals did not ask for larger amounts of ‘free’ money and were keen to return any unspent monies. All recipients of support agreed that the money had helped them to achieve their goals but they also stated that the experience of being trusted was of greater value to them. Additionally, they had been inspired to think creatively about their own lives and had established positive relationships with support agencies for the future.
Diversity Matters works with mixed groups of service users and provider organisations. While it can be difficult for social care professionals to set aside a couple of days for any training or facilitated event, the majority of participants report that they enjoy the process and appreciate the opportunity to think in new and creative ways about their roles. Post event, innovative ways of keeping in touch are used including asking for feedback by text which has resulted in a rapid and high feedback rate, as opposed to traditional survey type questionnaires.