50% dropout rate in drug addict test plan

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The Independent Online
MORE THAN half the offenders in the Government's showpiece programme for tackling drug-related crime have had to be sent back to court. The Drug Treatment and Testing Order (DTTO), unveiled by the Home Secretary Jack Straw last year, was intended to break the cycle of drugs and crime by offering the courts an alternative to sending offenders to prison.

But official statistics show only 145 people were selected for the scheme in its first year and 77 (53 per cent) breached its conditions by reverting to drugs or not attending counselling and therapy sessions.

The DTTO, costing pounds 6,000 per place per year, is being piloted in Liverpool, Gloucestershire and Croydon, with the intent to cover England and Wales next year. The 77 people who breached their DTTOs were given custodial sentences for their original offences.

In Gloucestershire, 41 of the 72 orders were breached (57 per cent), and the Liverpool pilot had 22 failures out of 44. In Croydon, only 29 orders were issued and 14 were breached.

Harry Fletcher, of the National Association of Probation Officers, said: "Unfortunately, these orders do not appear to be having any impact on drug-related crime. This has serious implications for the Prime Minister's wish to do mandatory drug tests on suspects at police stations. What on earth do we do with the offenders who test positive?"

He said the failure rates were more worrying because probation staff "cherry-picked" only a third of offenders assessed for DTTOs. Mr Fletcher said nearly 5,000 criminally-active drug users would pass through the courts in the three pilot areas each year and only 3 per cent of them were on the programme.

The DTTO is tailored to individual needs but typically lasts for a year, the the offender having to attend group therapy and counselling every weekday and give three urine samples a week to prove they are drug-free.

The orders, praised last year by probation chiefs as "a massive leap forward in the treatment of drug abusers", have had enthusiastic public support from police and magistrates despite the low referral rate. The programme is linked to employment training and education advice and several clients have stabilised their lives sufficiently to return to work or attend a college.

Martin Smith, project manager of the Gloucestershire scheme, said: "Drug addiction is a chronic relapsing condition and we would not expect 145 people to come out good." He said the high number of failures showed the programme was being rigorously managed.