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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 July, 2003, 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK
'I commit crime to feed my habit'
Drug addict
Six out of every 10 criminals take drugs
As a report says the government's Street Crime Initiative has failed to tackle the problem of drug-using offenders, an addict and a former drug action worker describe their experiences.

Michael is a 41-year-old addict who has spent most of his life in prison.

After serving his fifth sentence for street robberies committed to fund his drug habit, he tried to get help for his addiction - but says his efforts were in vain.

"I filled out all the forms, sent them off and never got no answer from them.

"This is the only time over 20 odd years I have tried to do the right thing - but they did not want to know," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

I am going to have to go out and commit crime because drugs are expensive
Michael,
Drug addict

"They say they want to help you - but when it comes down to it they have got so many other ex-offenders they have to deal with they are not getting the money to sort anything out."

Michael said he was now "struggling" to control his habit alone.

"It is very hard work for me - but no one is giving me any help.

"I am going to have to go out and commit crime because drugs are expensive."

'Resentment'

Six out of every 10 criminals take drugs, according to government research.

And about half of all crime in England and Wales is drug related.

Richard Elliot is the former coordinator of a drug action team who left his job in Bristol because he believed the Street Crime Initiative was doing more harm than good.

People with drug problems should be treated according to their need and not whether or not they have committed a particular type of crime
Richard Elliot,
Former drug action worker

"The drug action team had several agencies negotiating to pool funds to improve services to offenders," he told Today.

"Then the street crime initiative was announced and the two police units had to pull their money out.

"Everything was frozen for several months while we all ran around trying to meet the street crime agenda."

Some addicts saw street crime as a "win-win situation", Mr Elliott said.

If they evaded the law they could fund their habits - and if caught they were more likely to receive treatment.

The initiative "fast-tracked" offenders into treatment, causing "a great deal of resentment among law-abiding drug users" Mr Elliot added.

"The government is using treatment as a criminal justice tool rather than as a health and social care tool.

"People with drug problems should be treated according to their need and not whether or not they have committed a particular type of crime."

Rehabilitation call

Caroline Flint, Home Office minister in charge of tackling drug crime, said a "much more joined up approach" was needed to tackle drugs and crime, with agencies working together more effectively.

She told Today the government needed "to create the capacity to provide more treatment" for addicts.

"That may involve residential care, care in the community, it could also involve sorting out people's housing because people who are using hard drugs have chaotic lifestyles and if one pillar of support falls down the whole system can collapse."

A record 1.2bn was being spent this year to "make sure we break the cycle of crime and drug taking", she said.

That figure would rise to 1.5bn by 2005.

But shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin is calling for a "tenfold" increase in drug rehabilitation facilities.

He told BBC News the report on the Street Crime Initiative "makes very clear a critical component of any long-term strategy to reduce low-level crime on our streets is to deal with the problem of the young hard-drug users".

"The way to deal with that is intensive absence-based rehabilitation treatment," he said.




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