Home > Arrest referral in the north inner city.

Connolly, Johnny (2005) Arrest referral in the north inner city. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 14, Summer 2005, pp. 13-14.

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The main aim of arrest referral schemes is to provide information to arrestees about appropriate services and to facilitate referral to treatment at the primary points of entry into the criminal justice system, usually the police station. Arrest referral is an early intervention aimed at people who have been arrested and whose offence may be linked to drug use. Such policies are premised on the idea that treatment will lead to a reduction or cessation of illicit drug use and will thus reduce or negate further drug-related offending by the drug user. UK research suggest that for every Stg£1 spent on treatment, Stg£3 is saved on the cost of law enforcement.  


Juvenile arrest referral schemes are consistent with the principles outlined in the Children Act, 2001, which emphasises prevention and the diversion of young offenders from prosecution. Action 13 of the National Drugs Strategy 2001–2008 obliges An Garda Síochána ‘To monitor the efficacy of the existing arrest referral schemes and expand them, as appropriate’. Action 19 promotes such early intervention approaches to problem drug use: ‘Incidences of early use of alcohol or drugs by young people coming to Garda attention to be followed up by the Community Police and/or the health and social services, in order that problem drug misuse may be diagnosed/halted early on through appropriate early intervention’.1

A summary report published by the North Inner City Drugs Task Force and funded by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform on a pilot arrest referral scheme in Dublin’s north inner city was launched in April by Noel Ahern TD, Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy.2

The report considers best practice approaches in the UK, where significant progress has been achieved in introducing arrest referral schemes. As part of the UK’s Drugs Intervention Programme, Stg£20million has been made available to fund arrest referral programmes. All police forces in England and Wales operate proactive arrest referral schemes. The report also considers an arrest referral scheme in operation at Gransha Hospital in Derry, the Derry Arrest Referral Team (DART) Alcohol/Drugs Service,and outlines three different arrest referral intervention models. The information-giving model provides information such as leaflets on treatment, but there is no advice, counselling or follow-up; the incentive or coercive model involves cautioning an arrestee to seek advice from a drugs worker or postponing a cautioning decision pending attendance by the arrestee at a drug service; and the proactive model involves specialist arrest referral workers based in the police stations or on call. These workers proactively contact and assess drug-using arrestees and refer them to treatment as appropriate. Approximately 400 arrest referral workers are employed through these schemes in the UK.

The north inner city pilot scheme involves co-operation between the outreach services of the Health Service Executive Northern Area, An Garda Síochána North Central Division and the local drugs task force. Participation in the scheme is completely voluntary for arrestees and does not interfere with the normal processing of the criminal justice system. The initial take-up of the scheme has been low. The report provides data for juveniles arrested in the North Central Division stations of Store Street, Mountjoy, Bridewell and Fitzgibbon Street between May and September 2003. Of the 214 arrestees, 167 were male. Only 14 (6.5%) of these arrests were made under the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) 1977.

The take-up rate for the scheme is reported as ‘quite low’ with only a small number of individuals referred to the health services. The report acknowledges that many young arrestees will not see their drug use as problematic but rather as ‘dabbling’ or ‘recreational’ and will therefore not seek help. Also, the low number of MDA-related arrests leads the authors to question whether the scheme should be broadened to all juvenile arrestees, ‘regardless of their offence within appropriate qualifications’.2

The low take-up rate of the scheme is consistent with data provided by the National Drug Treatment Reporting System. Table 1 shows the number and percentage of cases reported to the National Drug Treatment Reporting System by court, probation or police.  As can be seen, the proportion of cases referred from these criminal justice agencies is low and has remained relatively unchanged between 1998 and 2002. Table 1   The number (%) of cases reported to the National Drug Treatment Reporting System who were referred by police, probation or court







Police, probation, court

  518 (8.8)

  427 (7.1)

  439 (6.5)

  480 (6.4)

  598 (7.4)

Total cases1






1 Cases in which the referral source was recorded.

Source: Unpublished data from the National Drug Treatment Reporting System, Health Research Board

The low take-up rate in the Dublin scheme is consistent with findings from other such schemes in their early stages. Referrals in the Derry scheme increased from 85 in 2001 to 249 in 2003. Similarly, as the pilot becomes increasingly established in the north inner city, the gardaí report that the number of referrals is also growing.The primary recommendation of the report is that the pilot phase of the scheme should be extended, with additional resources in terms of staff, programme development and monitoring.


1. Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation (2001) Building on experience: National Drugs Strategy 2001–2008. Dublin: Stationery Office.

2. North Inner City Drugs Task Force (2005) Changing track: a study informing a juvenile arrest referral pilot in the North Inner City. Dublin: North Inner City Drugs Task Force.

Copies of the summary report can be obtained from the North Inner City Drugs Task Force at nicdtf@iol.ie or from the National Documentation Centre on Drug Use at www.hrb.ie/ndc

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Crime prevention
Issue Title
Issue 14, Summer 2005
April 2005
Page Range
pp. 13-14
Health Research Board
Issue 14, Summer 2005
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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