Addictions 'prompt thousands of crimes': 'Direct link' to drugs and alcohol abuse

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The Independent Online
YOUNG people suffering from addiction to drink and drugs are responsible for more than one-third of all solved burglaries, thefts and property crimes, according to a report published today by probation officers.

It also discloses that more than 60 per cent of prisoners surveyed regularly use drugs or alcohol. And nearly half of those known to the probation service committed their last offence to maintain an addiction.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo), said: 'It seems certain that hundreds of thousands of offences per annum are directly linked to drugs and alcohol.

'Last year, around 5 million property crimes were recorded and just over 1 million were cleared up. Half of these were probably drug or alcohol-related.' Napo is calling for an urgent parliamentary investigation into the link between crime and addiction, for increased facilities for those addicted to drugs and alcohol, and for the proper training of all those dealing with them.

Napo analysed the circumstances of 3,279 people on probation last April from 18 different cities and counties. A total of 56 per cent misused drugs and alcohol and nearly three-quarters had committed their last offence to maintain their addiction. Napo also surveyed 2,473 prisoners and found that 53 per cent had committed their last offence because of an addiction. In total, it found that 41 per cent on community supervision had committed their last crime to feed an addiction.

The survey also discloses that about 13 per cent of those on probation or community service are mentally vulnerable, and require specialist treatment. Marginally more of those in prison - 18 per cent of prisoners - suffered mental health problems.

Mr Fletcher said it had emerged that most offenders were unemployed and living in poverty. He said that the survey had revealed a good deal of anecdotal evidence to support the view that social deprivation encouraged crime. Napo estimated that between 95 and 99 per cent of those surveyed were unemployed at the time they committed the crime, and as many as half of them had nowhere permanent to live. They were generally aged between 16 and 25, and those who reported a drug addiction were spending as much as pounds 100 per day to satisfy it.

Probation officers conducting the survey routinely complained about lack of facilities to help deal with problems of drink and drug abuse; all mentioned the need for more community psychiatric nurses.

The report concludes: 'Although the Prison Service recently reported that 98 per cent of establishments provided some form of treatment or education for inmates with drug misuse problems . . . the evidence suggests that the vast majority of these symptoms are not treated.

'The chances that the overwhelming majority of this group are involved in persistent petty reoffending are therefore extremely high.'