The Forward Trust’s CEO reflects on drug recovery wing research report
Friday 06 October 2017

Today (6th October 2017), the University of York published its report into the management and impact of 10 Drug Recovery Wing ‘pilots’ within prisons in England and Wales.

Authored by Charlie Lloyd and Geoff Page, the report has plenty of good analysis and recommendations for how these facilities – dedicated locations in prisons where an explicit attempt is made to create a positive ‘recovery culture’ in which prisoners find support to move away from addiction and crime, in contrast to the peer pressure to use and deal drugs that exists on many prison locations.

The Forward Trust (formerly RAPt) managed two of the facilities studied (HMP Brixton – which we took over after the initial research phase - and HMP High Down), and has 20 years experience of running recovery wings. This peaked in 2012 when we were involved in 12 separate such initiatives. Our experience corresponds with the first finding of the research – that the term ‘recovery wing’ can cover a wide range of models and structures, and the differences between well and badly designed and implemented facilities makes a massive difference to their impact. Well designed recovery wings create a much less violent and more co-operative population, whose focus is on rehabilitation rather than the drug market, and turning out a high proportion of prisoners determined not to return to a life of addiction and crime.

As the researchers have identified, any successful recovery wing needs to have a clear strategy for who moves on and off the wing, what treatment and support is provided during their stay, and what procedures are in place to ensure the progress made is built upon on transfer and release. There needs to be a commitment from prison management and treatment providers to ensure this strategy is consistently applied. Across the pilots, performance in this regard was very variable, making it difficult to assess overall impact.

The two recommendations focused on by the researchers are correct:
-    Not underestimating the need for significant interventions in prisoners’ lives to achieve the sort of changes in behaviour sought, and;
-    Implementing more robust processes for maintaining the motivation to change that prisoners develop while on recovery wings, once they move to other prison locations, or are released.

I would emphasise, however, that the most important factor in any individual prisoner’s recovery is not the nature of the post release support provided to them, but the strength of the internal change that has happened to them in prison. Of course, a good home and a job are important building blocks for ‘going straight’ but none of this ‘recovery capital’ is as important as the strength of an individual’s belief in, and decision to pursue, a different path. This is what good recovery wings instil in prisoners.

After 20 years experience of running these facilities, we never viewed recovery wings as ‘pilots’. We do not understand why there is not a national drive to ensure every prison offers this option to prisoners (we welcome the ‘recovery prison’ initiative at Holme House), and we have learnt a great deal about the ‘dos and don’ts’ of their implementation. We hope that the publication of this research leads to a new enthusiasm at HMPPS to support Governors to get recovery wings in place as part of their strategy to undermine the drug markets in their prisons, and to improve reoffending rates.

Mike Trace