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Keane, Martin (2008) Court-prescribed drug education for first-time offenders. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 27, Autumn 2008, pp. 14-15.

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The Drug and Alcohol Programme (DAP) run by Crosscare works with small numbers of individuals referred for drug education following arrest for first-time and minor drug-related offences. Such offences often occur in the context of outdoor concerts and music festivals. Crosscare recently commissioned research to investigate two key questions: 

  1. Is the DAP service the appropriate mechanism to meet the needs of this target group and, if so, how can it be developed further?
  2. What is best practice in meeting the needs of this target group?
 This research has now been published, and draws attention to an area that has received little attention so far.1 The report notes that in 2007 fewer than five individuals referred to the DAP had been arrested for minor cannabis or ecstasy offences at music festivals. However, this number may be an underestimate as the DAP does not usually record the reasons for referral. It is claimed that individuals are often referred to the programme on an ad hoc basis, with no clear links developed between the courts and the drug education providers and no attempt to monitor or evaluate the service. The report recommends improved collaboration between the courts, the Probation Service and drug education providers, and questions whether the current service run by Crosscare is the appropriate mechanism, in the absence of the necessary collaborative supports outlined.
The author states that drug education is unlikely to be effective unless it is begun at the point of arrest and set within the context of a continuum of care from first point of engagement through treatment and into recovery. However, this claim is made on the basis of findings from one study2 of drug arrest-referral schemes in the UK which dealt with problematic drug users requiring treatment, rather than with recreational drug users referred to drug education services as in the Crosscare programme. Individuals arrested for first-time or minor drug-related offences are unlikely to share characteristics or needs with the kind of clients dealt with by arrest-referral schemes such as those in the UK study. Drug education plays a peripheral part in such schemes, where the main focus is on getting individuals into treatment as an alternative to a custodial sentence.
The Crosscare report recommends that the best way to meet the drug education needs of recreational drug users in Ireland is through multi-agency partnerships, so that participants can be referred to appropriate services, such as drug treatment, housing support, mental health, primary care, training, education and employment. The author concludes that a UK programme, Dependency to Work (D2W), is a model of best practice in this regard and that agencies such as Crosscare could draw on the approaches adopted in the model if they wish to continue providing a service to individuals referred by the courts.
The comparison between the DAP and the D2W is inappropriate because the D2W programme was developed to target offenders with multiple complex needs, including problematic drug use; it was not designed to engage with individuals arrested for once-off, minor drug-related offences. Therefore, one can argue that the D2W programme is not a suitable model for dealing with the small numbers of individuals referred by the courts and engaging with the DAP.
An evaluation of the D2W programme over the five-year period 1999–2004 concluded that it was only partially successful. While the programme succeeded in getting some clients into drug treatment, it suffered implementation failure, with relations between the statutory and voluntary sectors becoming strained around issues such as assessment protocols and the sequencing of service delivery and programme management, with different actors pursuing targets that often conflicted with those of the D2W programme.  Because of differences between the target groups and weakness within the D2W programme itself, it would appear that this is not an appropriate example of best practice in the case of the DAP programme. 
1. Giaquinto F (2008) Court appointed drug education: the perspective of the voluntary sector. Dublin: Crosscare.
2.   O'Shea J and Powis B (2003) Drug arrest referral schemes: a case study of good practice. London: Home Office Research Development and Statistics Directorate.
3. McSweeney T and Hough M (2006) Supporting offenders with multiple needs: lessons for the ‘mixed economy’ model of service provision. Criminology and Criminal Justice. 6(1): 107–125


Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Crime prevention, Education and training
Issue Title
Issue 27, Autumn 2008
Page Range
pp. 14-15
Health Research Board
Issue 27, Autumn 2008
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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