The challenges for teenagers in the criminal justice system are many but those whose lives have been blighted by substance misuse have extra issues. These are scenarios familiar to the Young People’s Substance Misuse Service, which won the drugs and alcohol category at the Community Care Awards for its work at Ashfield Prison and Young Offenders Institution (YOI) in Bristol.
Most young men held at Ashfield have experienced substance misuse, either through their parents or carers or by misusing drugs and alcohol themselves. A drug service previously operating at the prison had targeted adult inmates only so, in January 2005, a service for its 400 15- to 18-year-old males was launched.
The premise of the scheme is education. Every young person undergoes an initial assessment and attends an induction, which includes two sessions of basic drugs awareness. The sessions include information on harm minimisation, the effects and risks of substance use, overdosing, tolerance levels and drugs and alcohol law.
After completing the programme, individuals can access the service voluntarily and receive one-to-one support, acupuncture, detox assistance or attend a cognitive behaviour therapy programme. The project works with about 80 per cent of young offenders at Ashfield for however long is necessary.
Substance misuse worker Tracey Lewis says: “A lot of the work we do is with young people who don’t want to quit, but they do want to know about the risks.”
Lewis works with eight other substance misuse workers, a specialist nurse, two administrators and the manager of the service. Having a dedicated team in the YOI allows Lewis and her colleagues to see their caseload of 30 young people regularly and interact with Prison Service staff. Lewis and her colleagues regularly engage in multi-disciplinary work with Ashfield’s health care and resettlement teams and can share information and concerns.
The benefits of the service are clear. Lewis says it not only assists the young offenders with their substance misuse problems but also highlights the issue for other professionals working with this client group. “What we do is about education and sharing knowledge so when the young people get out of here they know about minimising risk. It also helps those who want to stop or cut down their use and connects them with organisations in the community.”
The response from the young people has been positive. Lewis says: “They like to talk about drugs and alcohol and tell us what they have done. They have opened up.”
When the project was announced as a winner at the awards ceremony last December “I don’t think the smile left my face for days,” Lewis says. The team is proud of winning because, she says, their contemporaries at other agencies recognise how successful projects have to be to win.
The £5,000 prize will fund the training of more prison staff about the effects of drug and alcohol withdrawal, as well as establishing health and sexual health testing.
● Tracey Lewis: 0117 303 8360