Break offenders’ link with alcohol

One of the major concerns in the field of homelessness is the
number of people who are alcohol dependent or problem drinkers (the
two are not synonymous) and who become offenders.

They are often given short-term sentences and released from prisons
as homeless. They have no visible support networks and have had no
help to alleviate their problems. There is little chance that
services will be available to them where they choose to live.

Millions of pounds are being spent, and rightly, in reducing other
forms of substance abuse. But drug action teams, prison Carat
(counselling, assessment, referral, advice and throughcare) teams,
arrest referral workers and the rest are not funded or trained to
deal with alcohol abuse. A person in prison or in custody wishing
to gain help with an alcohol problem is either directed to
Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or receives no service. The wait for
a residential detoxification place in my area is about 16 weeks and
in some places there are no residential services, only
community-based day services.

Anyone working in the criminal justice, prison or homelessness
sectors would readily acknowledge that alcohol abuse is a major
factor in crime and social exclusion. The figures are compelling:
one in five hospital admissions, about 5,000 “glassings” each year,
70 per cent of violent crime and 60 per cent of sexual assault and
child abuse are predicated on alcohol. According to the Association
of Probation Officers:”Thirty per cent of offenders on probation
and 58 per cent of prisoners have severe alcohol problems and
alcohol is a factor in their offence or pattern of offending.”

The Scottish executive, with little publicity, has published A
Plan for Action on Alcohol Problems 2002
, which sets up a
system alongside the existing drugs framework. It has alcohol
action teams sitting alongside drug action teams, a national
alcohol liaison officer and a structure to start engaging with the

In England, we are still waiting for the long-promised national
alcohol policy. The prison service has no comprehensive policy nor,
it seems, plans to implement one. Until the issue of alcohol is
addressed and the seriousness of it as a factor in crime is
recognised, other attempts to help prisoners being released will
fail. People with drink problems, particularly those who are
homeless, have little chance of rehabilitation without a real
commitment to funding an appropriate and available service for

John Henty is manager of a homelessness hostel.

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