In her first ever visit to a prison, the Duchess of Cambridge visited HMP Send in Surrey on Friday 25th September to view the RAPt addiction treatment programme. This is a huge honour for us – we are flattered that the Duchess has chosen to come and look at how we help women prisoners to confront and overcome addiction to drugs and alcohol, and to build a positive and crime free life. In the vast majority of cases, these women also have to deal with a history of trauma and abuse, and need to rebuild trusting and positive relationships with their families and children.
For over half of all prisoners’, their offending is related to drug or alcohol dependence, and the rate is higher amongst women prisoners. This pattern of addiction, offending, and imprisonment is well established by the time women can get access to the RAPt programme.
Many of the women also have mental health problems – in fact our research shows that prisoners with drug or alcohol problems tend to have higher mental health problems than the rest of the prison population. The most prevalent is a history of trauma or symptoms which indicate post traumatic stress disorder. We therefore design our programmes to be an intensive course of professional and mutual support that tackles the root causes of dependence, and equips our clients with the strength and skills to resist a return to the same destructive patterns of behaviour.
We have been working with addicts in prisons for over 20 years, and have made a priority of evaluating our results in detail, in order to prove our value for money, but also to constantly refine and improve our services. From these evaluations, we know that around 70% of the people who sign up for our intensive programmes complete the course. These ‘graduates’ will have gone through a challenging period of self examination, and will have remained drug free for the whole duration of the programme (for most of them, the longest period of abstinence they have ever achieved). Independent peer reviewed research has shown that the post-release re-offending rate (by volume of offences) of these graduates is up to 65% lower than a comparison group who didn’t benefit from our services.
We run addiction recovery services in 26 prisons in England, but only have the resources to deliver these intensive programmes in 13 of them. Shockingly, given the proven results outlined above, our women’s programme in Send Prison is the only one of its kind in the whole of the UK, considering the savings to the taxpayer from reduced crime amongst its 450 graduates runs to tens of millions of pounds. Across the country, only 3% of drug dependent prisoners get access to any sort of intensive programme, which is a huge missed opportunity to make prisons safer (particularly in the light of the recent rise in the consumption in prisons of new psychoactive substances, also known as legal highs, such as Spice), and reduce reoffending.
The Duchess of Cambridge spent most of her time in the prison talking with current participants of the programme, and some graduates who are now living lives of positive recovery in the community – people like Kirsty who grew up in an addicted family and then moved to the care system. Kirsty spent years in prisons as a result of her addiction, until she found the RAPt programme at HMP Send. She graduated from the RAPt programme in 2007 and is now an outreach worker for The Nelson Trust, a charity that helps people with addiction issues. Last year she was awarded a research fellowship by The Griffins Society to undertake a study on women in addiction treatment services who have a history of involvement in sex work.
Right now, there are more than 5,000 ex-prisoners who have successfully completed the RAPt programme living drug free lives in the community. You probably wouldn’t notice them because they are getting on with life just like you and me – working, contributing, and living the principles of the 12-Step programme – find humility, take responsibility, and live ethically.
These thousands of ex-prisoners, plus the thousands of current prisoners hoping to follow them, and the hundreds of RAPt staff, volunteers and apprentices working to support them, together comprise a burgeoning recovery community of mutual support and self help. They are a social and community asset, and join with the hundreds of thousands of people giving and receiving support through the various 12-Step ‘anonymous’ groups that exist in every part of the country. If you want to know more about our work, or want to join this community, have a look at our website (www.rapt.org.uk) and get in touch.