Innovative drugs programme could save tax payers billions of pounds

24 March 2011

Swanswell could reduce the cost of drug-related crime to taxpayers in England and Wales by up to £2.4 billion1 if their new criminal justice programme was rolled out nationally.

Swanswell - a national charity which wants to achieve a society free from problem alcohol and drug use - has designed and developed an innovative 12-session programme to reduce drug use and related offending behaviour in Birmingham as part of a pilot.

It involved 360 people with drug misuse problems, including prolific offenders (those who commit the most significant level of crime), who had been referred in to treatment through the Criminal Justice system.

The structured one-to-one sessions cover a range of topics such as triggers of offending, how to avoid a risky situation, drug education and harm reduction.

The pilot has seen some impressive results – the amount of money participants spent on illegal drugs fell by 71 % compared to before they had treatment. In addition, just over 15% of people completed the treatment drug free.

With estimated annual costs of drug-related crime in England and Wales totalling £15.4 billion (Gordon, L., et al. 2006)2, Swanswell’s programme has the potential to reduce those costs by up to £2.4 billion1, if these figures were mirrored nationally.

Attendance at the sessions was also very pleasing at 73% - that’s up 23% compared to another non-Swanswell programme.

Frank, a 43-year-old from Birmingham, was referred to the programme after two years of cocaine misuse and heavy drinking led him to resign from a well paid managerial job, lose his house, cars, driving licence, his fitness and £20,000 in savings.

In 2007, Frank became disillusioned with his life and began to use the Class A drug at weekends. Before long, it turned in to a regular habit, which found him spending up to £400 a day, while drinking heavily at the same time.

It was when Frank woke up in a police cell after getting involved in a fight that he realised the full horror of the situation he was in. After being released from prison in late 2009, he was given two years’ probation and a one-year suspended sentence, and referred to Swanswell’s 12-session programme via the Drug Intervention Programme.

Frank said: ‘The programme at Swanswell made me realise how little I knew about the drugs I was taking and their effect on my brain. Waking up in the police cell was my lowest point, but that did me a favour because it put me on the road to turning my life around.

I hope, in time, that I can become a drug worker to help other people who have hit the depths of despair like me and that I can find my own place to live again.’

Debbie Bannigan, Swanswell Chief Executive, said: ‘We’re really encouraged by the results of our initial pilot programme, which shows this approach is successful in reducing drug-related crime and helping people change and be happy.

Moving forward, we’ll be sharing our findings with criminal justice professionals at a conference later this month before conducting a wider study learning from what we’ve already found.

Innovative programmes like this are essential during these times of national cutbacks and show how joined up working has substantial benefits – not just to criminal justice agencies but the individuals we’re helping, their communities and, on a wider scale, to the nation as a whole.’

Swanswell will be talking about this innovative work at Capita’s 8th National Reforming Integrated Offender Management Conference on 30 March.  


1. A simple estimate of cost savings is based on Swanswell’s pilot result of 15.3% of people completing the programme, case closed, drug free. It is assumed here that all of the 15.3% will not commit drug-related crime again. 15.3% of £15.4 billion = £2.4 billion.

2. Gordon, L., Tinsley, L., Godfrey, C. And Parrott, S. 2006. The economic and social costs of Class A drug use in England and Wales
In Singleton, N., Murray, R. And Tinsley, L (eds), Measuring different aspects of problem drug use: methodological
. Home Office Online Report 16/06







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