An empirically-derived model for the delivery of substance abuse treatment services to high security prisoners

First published: 09 May 2019 | Last updated: 09 May 2019

About 75% of prisoners housed in high security prisons in England evidence significant substance misuse problems.  However, as in other treatment settings, correctional clients vary widely in terms of the severity of their problems.  In general, substance abuse for this population is closely tied previous criminal history, present offences, and their risk for future criminal behaviour.  This paper describes an empirically-derived assessment-treatment model for high security prisoners with serious drug problems, the Focus Programme, and was developed as part of HM Prison Service’s response to the Government’s overarching policy aim to break the link between drug use and crime.  The high security scheme is premised on a more general model that operationalises the principles of risk and need – that individuals who are low need/low risk can be appropriately treated with brief focused skill development training whereas those who are high need/high risk for continued substance misuse and crime require longer and more intensive intervention treatment and aftercare in order to initiate and maintain long term attitudinal and behavioural change.

In support of the discussion, research evidence and applied programme models currently in use other international correctional jurisdictions and agencies (e.g., Canada, US, etc.) will be profiled and discussed.

Recent outcome evidence demonstrating the impact of an accredited high intensity treatment programme on participants’ conduct and drug use whilst in prison will also be discussed.


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Michael Wheatley