The Drugs Education Programme (DEP)

The DEP is a Bristol-based programme which offers offenders a one-time opportunity to attend a one-day course on the topic of addiction.

Charlotte Pritchard, Senior Commissioning and Policy Officer at Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset, spoke to us about the Drugs Education Programme (DEP).

Running since April 2016, the DEP offers an opportunity for “real diversion” away from the criminal justice system. At the time of writing, DEP is only delivered in Bristol but its success, exemplified by public praise, will be rolled out force wide by summer of 2019. The work is funded though the Avon and Somerset custody and courts service as part of their delivery contract and by the NHS, Avon and Somerset PCC.  It was previously delivered by Swanswell, a drug and alcohol support service. From April 2018, the Avon and Wiltshire mental health partnership will now deliver the service as part of a five year contract in conjunction with the police demonstrating a partnership approach to this work.

Tackling drug addiction

Charlotte provided us with an insight into the DEP, the motivations behind it and what makes it innovative:

She acknowledged that little was being done to address addiction within the criminal justice system and that they recognised that the root cause of a large amount of criminal activity was related to drug addiction. The Avon and Somerset problem-solving team worked with Swanswell on the issue and developed an approach which recognises drug addiction as a health issue.

DEP offers a one-time opportunity to attend a one-day course addressing addiction. An offender can have an extensive offending history but if at the point of arrest they are willing to engage in such an intervention, at the officer’s discretion they can be referred to the DEP. All referrals are made by the police. Usually the offence is possession. If they do not attend they will be charged to court by postal requisition and the opportunity will not be offered again. If the offender attends the DEP and is caught a further time, again they will not have this opportunity again. If the individual successfully attends, the crime will not receive a criminal justice outcome and will go down as ‘no further action’.

Reducing demand

The course is a one day group session covering educational topics around addiction. This is a health-based package but also seeks to address the legal implications surrounding drugs. The groups are mixed gender and mixed levels of users which offers a good dynamic to learning and experiences. Where a youth is referred, they will not attend a group session but take part in a 1:1 session. The expected outcomes are reduced re-offending, reduced demand on health services and improved relations between communities and the police through this new approach to policing drug possession.

Charlotte perceives this programme to be innovative as it is a “pioneering health intervention embedded” within the criminal justice system, especially with the police. “It is a new approach to policing in that it has changed [the] thinking to look at…root causes and give opportunity to change before criminalising” individuals. She also said that their model has been recognised by other forces who are exploring how to implement it in their own areas.


This case-study was compiled and edited by Jaskirat Mann in 2018