A tale of two prisoners - on the road to recovery or back on the streets taking drugs

·4-min read

When offenders addicted to drugs leave prison, they're faced with two choices: a life of recovery and stability or a life back on dangerous drugs.

Of the 25,000 prison leavers who need support for substance misuse each year, 62 per cent of them do not get the help they desperately need because of a broken system, data shared with Sky News shows.

The government is expected to announce it is making changes to its drug policy on Friday.

For now, in many parts of the country the options for recovery and rehabilitation are limited or not available. In Manchester, just 24 per cent of prison leavers across the city successfully engage in treatment.

This leaves people like Joe with no choice but to walk out of prison and instantly return to a dangerous life of drugs on the streets.

We met him by his tent in Manchester city centre just after he came back from his daily visit to the soup kitchen, where he's given vital supplies.

"I got out on 3 March this year and I got promised that all these options would be available but when it came to the limelight, there was only one option," he said.

"Come back to the city centre, homeless doing drugs.

"I came out of jail with £40 because that's what you get. Truthfully, I rang my dealer, they turned up, they gave me my six white and it just started again and again and again."

'It's just a circle and it never ends'

Joe says part of the problem is that there are always people around offering drugs.

"Manchester's like a breeding ground for it. There's no escaping it because you'll say to yourself one morning, 'I want to get off drugs' but then you'll see someone later who's selling drugs, taking drugs, offering you drugs. It's just a circle and it never ends."

Joe is one of thousands of prison leavers known to have drug problems who haven't received support - he's angry and hurt by what he calls a "failing system".

"When I was in school and they asked me what I want to be when I'm older, believe me, I did not say a crackhead or a drug addict or a substance user.

"If I could get that help, do you really think I'd be sat here in front of my tent? Do you really think I'd be wasting my time trying to explain how much f***ery the system is because if the system wasn’t a f***ery I wouldn’t be talking to you right this second."

He believes he's now stuck in a vicious cycle, struggling to get away from drugs, homelessness and poverty. He pleads for help from the authorities.

"I'd drop every single drug in the world if I could get proper help. I want to be a role model for my little brother and sister. But while I’m on drugs, I can’t do that and the addiction has got me and so I take more and more."

'I couldn't thank them enough'

In Sandwell in the West Midlands, that brutal, unstable life is no more for Elton. He's spent many years in the justice system, serving time for armed robbery, but his life out prison is completely different.

Elton is among the 62 per cent of former offenders in Sandwell who receive support for their drug addiction when they come out of prison.

He’s fallen into a system that provides stability, from help with housing to the daily doses of methadone that keep him off lethal substances and weekly meetings with his caseworker that keeps him on track.

"When I got out on 1 April, I had a prescription in my hand for the Saturday and the Sunday and an appointment already made for the Monday."

'Without them I'd still be on drugs'

Elton says he always used to turn to drugs during low points in his life.

"I've always self-destructed when bad things have happened in my life. I always ended up back on drugs using that as a crutch to get through. But this time they actually put walls of support around me, so that any issue I’ve got they're there straightaway."

There's no doubt Elton is part of a lucky group of people - his take couldn't be further from Joe's reality. As he showed us around his temporary accommodation he spoke of the second chance to life he'd been given by local authorities in Sandwell.

"Without the prescription and the check-up appointments especially, I'd be rattling basically. I'd be back using drugs straightaway, offending straightaway. I'd have no other choice.

"With the authorities this time, it has been more like a circuit break. Instead of self-destructing, I'm using the bad things that have happened to turn them into positives and build myself differently this time. I couldn't thank them enough, without them I'd no doubt still be on drugs, still offending or if not, in prison or dead."

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