Drink in the dock

    The link between alcohol abuse and youth offending is only just
    receiving the scrutiny it deserves, reports Anabel
    Unity Sale

    There were vigorous nods of agreement among professionals
    working in youth justice last October when Anne Owers, the chief
    inspector of prisons, acknowledged something they had known for a
    long time: “Alcohol for many of the young people going to
    prisons is as great a driver of their offending as
    drugs.”

    Days before Owers’ remarks, a prisons inspectorate report
    into Castington young offender institution revealed that 42 per
    cent of its inmates thought they would have an alcohol problem when
    they were released. Given statistics like this it is hardly
    surprising that the correlation between excessive alcohol
    consumption and criminal behaviour is well known.

    However, some believe alcohol’s role in youth offending is
    sometimes overlooked. Tim Bateman, senior policy development
    officer at crime reduction charity Nacro, says: “There is a
    tendency when comparing drugs and alcohol together to regard drugs
    as a bigger problem for young people, because adult culture accepts
    drinking without looking at its results.”

    If a young person is drinking cider with their friends in the park
    they may be seen as “experimenting”, which might not be
    the case if they were smoking crack. While one activity can be
    dismissed as part of growing up, the other sounds alarm
    bells.

    This may be because defining an “alcohol problem” is
    not easy. Richard Phillips, acting chief executive of Alcohol
    Concern, says alcohol dependency problems are unusual in young
    people, and that most young offenders will not need specific
    alcohol detoxification treatment. Bateman adds that, unless there
    is a pattern of alcohol-related offending, it can be difficult to
    present the issue to a young person as a problem they need to
    address.

    Although there are no official statistics on how many in the youth
    justice system misuse alcohol, the Youth Justice Board’s
    (YJB) head of policy for health and substance misuse, Bill
    Kerslake, says alcohol is second only to cannabis among substances
    consumed by young offenders.

    If a young offender receives a custodial sentence, then any alcohol
    misuse, if it is part of polydrug use, can be picked up by the
    counselling, assessment, referral, advice and throughcare (Carat)
    services. These provide low-level intervention, with the creation
    of a care plan based on an offender’s specific needs. The
    service operates in all prisons for all ages. From April 2005 it
    will be replaced by the juvenile substance misuse service for
    prisoners under 18. There are 16 substance misuse managers employed
    in YOIs in England and Wales who are in the process of appointing
    18 more staff.

    If a young offender receives a community sentence they will be
    dealt with by their council’s youth offending team. Any
    alcohol or drug misuse by offenders is picked up by a performance
    indicator introduced last April. Created by the YJB with the
    National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, the performance
    indicator dictates that a team screens all young people for all
    substances, and that those with identified needs receive a
    specialist assessment within five working days. If the young person
    does misuse substances, they should be able to access the
    appropriate treatment services within 10 working days.

    Each youth offending team has a substance misuse worker who
    identifies what part substances play in the life of the young
    offender. This worker can devise ways to help the young person,
    including directing them to specialist agencies.

    Each of the four secure training centres in England has a substance
    misuse manager. And the 15 local authority secure homes have
    received more funding to bring in sessional workers to look at
    alcohol, drug and substance misuse.

    While all this activity sounds commendable, is it enough to tackle
    the problem?  Kerslake is willing to admit that the focus in the
    past has been on drug rather than alcohol use, while adding:
    “The reality is young people use drugs and alcohol in
    tandem.”

    Phillips says: “I don’t think there is a single prison
    that has adequate provision to support prisoners with alcohol
    problems and it’s pretty unlikely that YOIs do
    either.”

    With this in mind, Alcohol Concern has recently worked with the
    Prison Service to develop a best practice guide on how to manage
    people who misuse alcohol. The guidance has yet to be allocated
    funding to roll it out, but Phillips believes its basic premise can
    be adapted by YOIs.

    Addressing a young offender’s alcohol misuse when they first
    enter the youth justice system is the ideal opportunity. But as
    Kerslake says: “There is no point in tackling alcohol without
    tackling the wider social issues, because it will have little
    effect.” CC

    •  Community Care’s Back on Track campaign aims to improve
      the lot of young offenders in custody and to reduce the number of
      children and young people given custodial sentences.

    good practice in sunderland

    Julie Wardell manages the youth drug and alcohol project for
    Sunderland Council’s social services department. Known as
    Y-Dap, it comprises eight staff from education, health, social
    services, a voluntary sector agency and Sunderland’s youth
    offending service (YOS). This month, the team will be joined by a
    dedicated trainer, funded by Sunderland primary care trust, who
    will train staff in working with various professionals around a
    young person’s drug and alcohol use.

    Y-Dap began life in April this year and started receiving referrals
    in May before being launched officially  in June. In its first
    three months it saw 75 under-18 year olds, 33 of these referrals
    being due to alcohol-related concerns. During 2003
    Sunderland’s YOS were referred 64 young people, 21 of these
    for alcohol problems.

    Wardell says: “Our treatment service looks at what the young
    person is drinking now – how many units a week – and
    what problems this is causing them. We get them to keep an alcohol
    diary, to assess whether they need to detox and to set goals. A
    goal might be if they are drinking 100 units a week to get it down
    to 90 the next week.”

    She believes the initiative works because all staff are encouraged
    to work with clients in a structured way. Young people attend Y-Dap
    voluntarily and work through several specific sessions over
    whatever period they need. Wardell says young people without very
    complex problems tend to complete six sessions.

    The project has become more young people-friendly, thanks to money
    given to the scheme by Sunderland’s drug action team, which
    has enabled it to buy a Playstation and a pool table. “Young
    people can come here and play pool and have a chat with us at the
    same time,” says Wardell.

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