Three quarters of people in the criminal justice system in the UK have a problem with alcohol, new research at Teesside University has found.
The study also found that those in the criminal justice system are almost 10 times more likely to be dependent on alcohol compared with the general population.
The research was led by Professor Newbury-Birch, Professor of Alcohol and Public Health Research in Teesside University’s Health and Social Care Institute.
Professor Newbury-Birch and her team carried out a systematic review of the literature to determine prevalence levels of alcohol in the various stages of the criminal justice system in the UK.
Figures showed that around three quarters of people in contact with the criminal justice system in the UK have a problem with alcohol – compared to around a quarter in the general population. This applies to those who have been arrested in police custody, those in the probation setting and those in the prison system.
And, over a third of people in the criminal justice system are dependent on alcohol compared to around 4% in the general population.
Those classified as having a problem with alcohol are people whose pattern of drinking increases the risk of either physical or psychological problems. Dependency implies the person has a cluster of physiological, behavioural and cognitive patterns which conform to the ‘alcohol dependence syndrome’.
Professor Newbury-Birch, who has recently been nominated for the renowned Stockholm Criminology Prize for her work around alcohol, public health and knowledge exchange in the criminal justice system, said: “This study was the first of its kind to synthesise what we know about risky drinking in the criminal justice system in the UK. It shows that alcohol dependency and risky drinking are prevalent throughout all stages of the criminal justice system.”
The research found that up to 88% of adults in the police custody setting, 69% in the probation setting and 86% in the prison system are risky drinkers. Furthermore, using adults risky drinking limits, 64% of young people aged between 11 and 17 in the criminal justice system were risky drinkers. The study also found that up to 38% of people in the police custody setting, 33% in the probation setting and 43% in the prison system scored positive for dependency.
Professor Newbury-Birch added: “This work is so important to the field, it gives us the information we need to develop appropriate interventions in the criminal justice setting for those with alcohol problems.”
Professor Newbury-Birch and her team of researchers are also involved in a collaborative research project with Dr Aisha Holloway from the University of Edinburgh, examining a new approach to help male remand prisoners tackle drinking problems.
They will conduct in-depth interviews and surveys with male remand prisoners in a Scottish and English Prison to create an intervention to help reduce alcohol related crime.
Professor Newbury-Birch said: “In order to get appropriate interventions in place around alcohol we need to be working with practitioners and individuals involved in the criminal justice system – I am lucky to be involved with a group of dedicated researchers, practitioners and policy makers to take this work forward.”