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Better drug testing needed in Probation Hostel

More effective drug testing practices and better staff guidance to identify and address risks associated with substance misuse are needed in probation hostels, according to a report by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO). The improvements for Approved Premises are necessary if the service is to offer better support for people released from prison or on bail.

Increased risks for those released from prison

The findings were contained in the latest PPO Learning Lessons bulletin – “Approved Premises – substance misuse”, which highlighted how overdoses of opiate and other drugs, including alcohol, by people released from prison remain a significant risk.

It also emphasised that such individuals are at a higher risk of overdose, particularly in the first month of release, if they slip back into drug and alcohol use after periods of abstinence or after a detoxification programme in prison. The risk of death for newly-released prisoners is between 40 and 70 times higher than the general population. This information will go to inform the work and processes not just of people in substance misuse jobs but also offender health jobs and even probation jobs.

Dangers of psychoactive substances not addressed in APs

The bulletin, based on findings from deaths in Approved Premises (APs) investigated by the PPO, also raised significant concerns about New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) - stimulants and hallucinogens commonly seen in prisons and the community, such as synthetic cannabinoids.

Acting Ombudsman Elizabeth Moody said that while the rise in use of such substances had been recognised within prisons, she felt that their implications for the AP estate were not being understood or addressed by the National Probation Service, which is responsible for APs.

For the report, the PPO had examined 29 of its investigations into AP deaths that were drug-related and found that testing for NPS in APs “appears to lag behind that in prisons and does not draw on the experience of prisons.”

While there was evidence of good practice, the Ombudsman said there were also cases “with too little focus on the risk of relapse and overdose” and deficiencies were identified in information sharing and in welfare checks.

Recommendations to deliver improvement

With 101 APs in England and Wales staffed 24 hours a day and providing accommodation for 2,267 residents, the bulletin made a number of recommendations to deliver improvements in the areas of: information flow; better checking on the welfare of AP residents to ensure the risks associated with substance abuse are well managed; and improving the AP manual to give staff better guidance on NPS use; and information sharing.

The Ombudsman added: “We know offenders can be at heightened risk of death following their release into the community. I hope this bulletin will help AP staff apply the learning from our investigations to improve the ways they identify, monitor and address the risk factors associated with substance misuse.”
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