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Coercion, drug treatment and the criminal justice system: a service user perspective

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

In the early 1980s, it was perceived that substance misuse and crime were linked and that drug users were responsible for a disproportionate amount of acquisitive crime being committed which led to the introduction of coercive measures. The causal relationship between drug use and crime has since been contested with attempts made to manage problematic drug use without appreciating the nature and underlying causes of substance misuse, such as assumptions relating to compulsion, ethics, motivation and self-determination. The effectiveness and appropriateness of contemporary drug policy has since consequently been due to the heterogeneous nature of coercion, as experienced by service users. With the changing focus of the government in the management of drug using offenders through the recovery agenda, albeit with the continued use of coercive measures, an in-depth exploration of drug using offenders’ experiences is essential to inform our understanding of the dynamics of coercion in their management. A qualitative approach is adopted using focus groups and semi-structured interviews to enable the views of participants to be explored. The use of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis and the researcher’s experience of working in the substance misuse field facilitate a grounded understanding of drug users in the criminal justice system, giving meaning and context to experiences of coercion. This research found that substance use fosters loneliness, shame, fear, low self-confidence and causes individuals to go against their values which creates barriers to their ability to access treatment. To avoid prison was the main reason participants accepted coerced treatment however, this did not mean that they were not motivated to address their substance use or make changes to their lifestyles. Instead, coercive measures were found to create an opportunity to face challenges and access treatment, providing there were elements of their life they wanted to change. If they had not reached a point where they had ‘enough’, it was found unlikely that coerced treatment would be accepted or commenced. Through coercion, participants did not feel pressures or threats to remain in treatment and were not necessarily unwilling. They gained the ability to foster relatedness and stability which enabled positive behaviour change. Length of sustained engagement in treatment was dependent on participants’ levels of motivation and treatment services’ ability to increase their autonomy and competence which has important implications for practice
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award dateJul 2017

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