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The Drug Treatment and Testing Order can be a successful community sentence for some drug misusing offenders who would otherwise have been considered for a prison sentence, according to a report to Parliament today by the National Audit Office. However, only 28 per cent of Orders terminated in 2003 were completed in full or were terminated early for good progress, reflecting the challenges faced by local services in keeping chaotic drug misusers on an intensive and highly structured programme.

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The Order can help offenders, including some of those who do not complete the Programme, reduce the level and frequency of their drug misuse. However, in three pilot areas 80 per cent of offenders on the Order had been reconvicted within two years. For those who had completed the Order the reconviction rate was lower at 53 per cent.

Probation areas face difficulties in assessing an offender’s likely commitment and ability to comply with an Order. This chaotic and seriously addicted group of offenders’ commitment to the Order can fluctuate from day to day. Some areas were working to improve retention on the Order, for example by running special groups for offenders new to the Order to raise their motivation. Probation areas seek to help offenders find suitable accommodation, but offenders considered that difficulty in finding accommodation away from their drug using peer group was a key problem.

Drug misusers placed on the Order do not necessarily reflect the make up of the wider drug using population, with younger people aged 18-21 and those with mental health problems being less likely to be found suitable for the Order. Some probation and drug treatment staff questioned the motivation of younger people to stay on the Order and also the suitability of the programmes for this group but, if successful, the impact on crime levels of reducing an offender’s habit at an early stage of a criminal career and the impact on the individual’s health could be greater. The introduction of a low intensity version of the Order from 2004-05 should help widen potential participation to those who have a less serious pattern of drug misuse and offending.

The report recommends more work to assess the effectiveness of local initiatives to build and sustain offender motivation for the Order; collection of data on age, sex and ethnicity of drug misusers on the Order to inform performance review, Order content and future needs; the need for effective arrangements for misusers coming off the Order to continue treatment and support if necessary; and improvements to the monitoring of outcomes achieved, in particular the reductions in drug misuse achieved and reconviction rates.

"Probation areas made rapid progress in establishing the Drug Treatment and Testing Order, meeting the target for commencements by April 2003. The Order can help some offenders turn their lives around and reduce their use of drugs. However, the high drop out rate and evidence from pilots of the Order of a high rate of reconviction need to be addressed.

"The Home Office should now shift its emphasis from achieving commencements towards improving the effectiveness of the Order in delivering positive outcomes. More needs to be done to build and sustain the motivation of those on the Order to address their problems and to recognise that the chaotic lives of many such users mean support and treatment may be needed beyond the period of the sentence."

Head of the National Audit Office, Sir John Bourn


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