FOLLOWING the introduction of a pilot led by Thames Valley Police, a preliminary evaluation has been conducted into the impact of the drugs diversion scheme in West Berkshire.

The data from the first three months of the scheme, which gave offenders found in possession of small quantities of illegal drugs the option of avoiding prison by taking park in a course, started on December 10 last year.

Police say it has provided 'positive outcomes' and helpful information for review.

The evaluation was carried out by Thames Valley Police in partnership with drugs diversion course provider Swanswell and The Edge, part of West Berkshire Council.

It’s been established that if the drug diversion scheme was not in place, between 67 per cent and 84 per cent would have been given a sanction that would not have offered an opportunity to address drug use.

Two of those who completed the course are now drug free.

The pilot in West Berkshire will continue to run until at least September, and further evaluation will continue.

The drug diversion scheme aims to reduce the harm caused by the use of drugs and drug related offences.

In the pilot, offenders found in possession of small quantities of illegal drugs have been offered the opportunity to take part in a tailored diversion route to address their use of drugs instead of facing prosecution.

Instead of being arrested and taken to police custody, those who qualify have been referred to an appointment with the local drugs service provider.

Discretion will be exercised to ensure the most appropriate outcome is applied for each case.

Specialist support has been provided with the aim to prevent the cycle of reoffending and long term demand upon the police and judicial services.

Offenders found in possession of larger quantities of drugs, those suspected of supplying illegal substances or those who do not engage with the specialise support, will face arrest and prosecution.

The scheme is also about working closely with our partners and the drug service providers in West Berkshire to offer a tailored programme of support.

Following initial assessment, a second pilot is being established.

The data from this pilot will be evaluated against the first to establish which pilot proves to be most successful and the force will examine whether it is possible to extend it to the other local policing areas throughout the Thames Valley.

This second pilot will be launched at the end of the year and further information will be released at a later date.

The 42% of those who did engage with the scheme completed an assessment and three one hour sessions as recommended.

All of those who indicated they would engage with the treatment attended an initial assessment, and only two of those failed to go on to complete the treatment programme.

78% of children completed the entire programme.

76% of referrals were for possession of cannabis.

Without the diversion scheme, between 67% and 84% of those diverted for treatment would have received a sanction that would not have enabled reasons for drug use to be addressed.

They would have received a warning, caution, Fixed Penalty Notice for Disorder or conviction.

It has also led to non-cash savings to Thames Valley Police.

Those who underwent treatment have been generally favourable about the scheme.

Service Manager for Swanswell, the drug diversion provider for the pilot, Sian Orton said: “Swanswell, part of the Cranstoun group, is delighted to work in partnership with Thames Valley Police to deliver the drug diversion pilot scheme in West Berkshire.

“We believe everyone should have the opportunity to live healthy, safe and happy lives, and by providing a tailored diversion route and specialist support programme through Swanswell, we have an opportunity to engage with people who may never seek treatment.

“In doing so, we can work with them to address their use of drugs, reduce harm and make healthier choices.”

In particular, this scheme has benefited children and young people.

With 78% completing the full programme of treatment with The Edge.

The scheme is an opportunity for intervention and also introducing those referred to further specialist youth support.

West Berkshire’s Executive Member for Public Health and Well-being, Rick Jones, said: “We are pleased to have been able to support the Drugs Diversion scheme both financially and as an active partner.

“The preliminary evaluation clearly shows that working to the needs of each individual is effective and cost efficient.

“There are many reasons for drug related issues and by working closely in a person centred way means that the root cause is more likely to be found an alleviated, leaving people in a far better position to move forward.”

Detective Superintendent Justin Fletcher, head of the Thames Valley Policing Strategy Unit, said: “The pilot of this scheme has been extended, which reflects its success in West Berkshire.

“It has been received well externally, by the users and partners, and internally by officers implementing the scheme with support from chief officers.

“We believe these initial results show that a new and innovative approach to tackling drug use in our communities is allowing us to help offenders for the first time and offer significant help to address drug issues.

“Young people, for example, are being given an opportunity to be educated about the risk drugs pose and hopefully prevent future drug taking and offending, in this short evaluation, this has shown to be positive.

“Those with established addictions are also, for the first time outside of the court system, being offered specialist treatment as an alternative to traditional outcomes.

“A warning or caution, which involves arrest, does not give an opportunity to establish the reasons behind the drug use, the drugs diversion scheme gives this option to those who are found with small quantities of drugs.

“Long term, the aim of this scheme is to move towards preventing the tragedy that too many families face of losing a loved one to a drugs-related death.

“It’s also been established in this pilot that this is not a step towards decriminalisation of drugs, but instead is focusing on the route cause for drug use.

“Offenders have just one chance to take part in the scheme and if they fail to engage, they could find themselves in a courtroom being prosecuted if they are found in possession of drugs in the future.

“They are not prompted to attend the drugs service appointments by officers, they have to make the decision to get the help being offered and this pilot has shown the uptake for help and education has been around the numbers predicted.

“In a short amount of time, the scheme has made a difference in the way drug offences are dealt with in West Berkshire and this choice is aimed at helping the individual with the initial issue of drug use through support and education.”

The scheme will continue to be evaluated to assess whether it is still reducing drugs-related harm and ensure it is being applied fairly.

A second pilot is being established, which will also face evaluation. The pilot which works best towards the scheme’s aim will be considered for extension to other policing areas throughout the Thames Valley.