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The true cost of jailing addicts

Recovery House logo largeMatt Baker works for East Northants Community Services (ENCS) as the Project Manager of Recovery House and argues that everyone benefits if addicts stay out of prison.


Addiction! Not exactly a sexy subject

Charitable donation is a competitive market saturated with worthy causes.  We are constantly being bombarded with pleas for £2 a month, all of which we would like to give to but often our fear is that once we have offered something then the requests will increase. How do we chose from the seemingly infinite worthy causes where to donate our hard-earned spare pennies?


The issue faced when raising money to help those suffering with addiction is the associations we all have in our minds about the nature of the problem. The perception is that this is a problem brought on by the addict themselves so why do they deserve our help? After all they are a drain on our societies resources and quite frankly a difficult bunch to sympathise with. However, if you take the time to ask them, they never set out at school to be an addict. Nobody went to their careers officer and said, “I know on paper I would make a good journalist, but I’m thinking of being a junkie.” Through what started life as some teenage poor choices (of which I’m sure we all made some to varying degrees) results in them being seen by us a little more than a criminal nuisance. But what if criminalising them was actually costing more than helping them. This is the reality of our current system.

Are they criminals?

The short answer is yes. Clearly possession of banned substances is illegal and that can often be the least invasive of their criminal escapades. Once addiction has taken a firm grip of an individual then often further crimes against the community are common in order to obtain what is perceived to be essential for continued survival. Even those who are addicted to legal substances such as alcohol or prescription drugs will often underestimate the danger attached to flying around in those two tonne tin cans on wheels.


But as with all illnesses of the mind, it’s more complex than it seems on the surface. It is not difficult to see that these people are ill. We’ve all seen those addicts about the towns of Northamptonshire who resemble something from The Walking Dead. What we can see is only the manifestation of the physical consequences.  The physiological impact of repeated substance abuse is lasting and dramatically impacts the way in which the world is perceived and subsequently what decisions are made. The spirit is broken and to them, feels irretrievable. What we are left with is a person that was once a spritely child with the wonder of the world glistening in their eyes, reduced to a mentally, physically, and spiritually broken shell. So ask yourself, do they need imprisoning, or is there a way we can facilitate their freedom?

It is known that 76.6% of prisoners released reoffend within five years and of that number 56.7% reoffend within the first year.  At a cost to the tax payer of £65,000 to imprison somebody for one year, there must be a better way. Not through some airy-fairy liberalism, but through a genuine desire for a pragmatic response to a social problem. After all, it’s us that foot the bill. Are our best efforts really just culminating in the periodical abatement of criminal activity? Is this pseudo-solution the best we can do as a society?


So, what’s the answer?

I work for East Northants Community Services (ENCS). I am the Project Manager of Recovery House, Northamptonshire’s only charity run residential rehab. We have a six bed primary care property and currently have two secondary stage or move-on properties that hold seven. We are currently a male only unit as we’ve found this to be the most productive social dynamic in which to begin honest work on self-change.  The treatment philosophy is based around the 12 Step model created and popularised by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Through the 12 Step methodology we aim to inspire real and lasting change in the behaviour of the men who put themselves forward. Recovery begins with an admission of not being able to stop alone, then followed up by the decision to access help. Therefore, we do not work on a first come first served basis. We accept those that show us that they are willing to make an effort of their own volition. As a charity money is always tight so we want to honour those who have donated by using their money wisely to help those who wish to help themselves.


Addiction results in the isolation of the person affected. They become separated from their friends and family, often physically but always emotionally. This creates the impression of a hostile world which is separate from them. They become separate from others, from their true selves, and from any concept of a God they may have once had. Nobody can survive in a world like this with any level of serenity. The best that they learn to wish for is existence.

As an organisation, we challenge this world view through showing them love, compassion, tolerance, and patience. We aim to outline cogent practises for living that can be adopted to dramatically improve the world view of the once pessimistic and apathetic addict. We show them that they are worthy human beings with assets and by continuing the path they were on they are committing the greatest crime of all in stealing their potential away from the world.

We have seen the fruits of our labour and it is the most enriching occupation I could ask for. To watch a person arrive with their self-esteem in the dirt begin to find who they truly are and rediscover their zest for life feels somehow intrinsic to the meaning of life itself. We have seen people go from a life of depression, benefits and crime, to a life of peace, service to their fellow man, and financial self-sufficiency. This outcome is more common than not which is something we are extremely proud of.

But this must cost thousands I hear you cry! And what about those who it doesn’t work for, is that not a waste of money? These are good questions. I’m glad you brought them up. To house somebody through a year of our program it costs £15,800. This is clearly a lot of money but in contrast to the £65,000 the tax payer spends on incarcerating them it’s drops in the ocean. Even the few who would not fit in to our “success” statistics have been shown a new way of life which will hopefully spur them on in their future grab at recovery. At the very least they have been abstinent from harmful substances and criminal activity. This alone is a far better outcome than most prison sentences.

The issue is that we are a charity with finite resources and the prison system seems to be sourcing their funds from a pot at the end of the rainbow. After all, there will never be a court case where they say, “I know you assaulted him but we’re skint so promise not to do it again and on you go you little scamp.” The money will just be pulled from a more worthwhile cause.

I am so proud of what we do but in the same breath I realise that we are merely scratching the surface. The change in the individuals is immeasurable but ultimately, we want to secure a paradigm that makes this method of rehabilitation accessible to everyone who would benefit from it. It feels a little like Jesus in his feeding of the 5000, only we do not have the divine skillset required to spread what little we have among the many in need.

Is there not a way in which we could redirect some of those funds from temporary punishment to long term social reintegration?

If I or someone I love needs help

I believe the 12 steps to be the best platform for life long change in the world, as do the hundreds of thousands of people globally that are applying them to their lives today. The public relations policy of 12 step support groups is based on attraction rather than promotion. Therefore, it would not be right to turn this in to an advert. However, if you need help, search for the substance in question alongside anonymous support groups and you will find some. Seek and ye shall find.

If you are fortunate enough to be in a position to help us here at ENCS to continue the work we are doing, then please consider visiting our website and making whatever contribution you can. The money will go towards improving our current services and developing plans for new services. One of our long term goals is to provide treatment provision for women. This can only be achieved with your help.




I'm the editor and owner of The NeneQuirer.


  1. At last thank god there are people who really know what they are talking about and have truly been there and not some poor well meaning niaeve academeic so called proffessional who really havent got a clue. Yes yes yes thank you so much for posting this article its the real truth about the disease of addiction.

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