More than 70% of crimes committed by offenders under supervision in the community were linked to drug and alcohol misuse, research shows.

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Drugs link to 70% of crimes on probation

Saturday, September 01, 2012

More than 70% of crimes committed by offenders under supervision in the community were linked to drug and alcohol misuse, research shows.

The first national survey of offenders under the supervision of the Probation Service found 67% of offenders had misused illegal drugs, compared to 27% of the general population.

The survey, seen by the Irish Examiner, provides a rare picture of the scale of alcohol and drug misuse among offenders and their link with crimes, such as theft, burglary, assault, and public disorder.

The survey involved 2,963 adult offenders on the caseloads of probation officers on Apr 1, 2011. It found:

* 89% of offenders used drugs or misused alcohol currently or in the past;

* 27% misused drugs only, 20% misused alcohol only and 42% misused both;

* 21% of offenders were currently misusing two or more substances;

* Alcohol is the substance most commonly misused.

There are urban-rural differences, with drug-only usage rates between 27% and 34% in Dublin and between 19% and 25% elsewhere. Conversely, alcohol misuse-only rates were around 16% in Dublin, but between 20% and 28% in the rest of the country.

The survey also documented current usage levels, but said the results were more than likely to be an under-estimation.

The results showed 36% were misusing alcohol, with 38% saying they previously did so. Some 22% said they were currently misusing cannabis, while 32% said they had done in the past.

Some 9% were currently misusing opiates (mainly heroin), with 26% doing so in the past. The figures show a dramatic drop in use of stimulants, including cocaine, with 34% saying they used in the past, but only 6% currently.

The survey found proportionally much higher levels of opiate and prescribed drug usage among females:

* 9% of women and 4% of men were using opiates on a weekly basis;

* 8.5% of women and 4.5% of men were using prescribed drugs weekly.

The report said opiate use was highest in Dublin, but was also high in the Midlands and South East.

The survey found that for 74% of drug-misusing offenders, and 71% of alcohol misusing offenders, their misuse was linked to their current offence.

For drugs, 37% of offences were acquisitive crimes (thefts, burglaries and robberies) and 31% were drug-related offences, mainly possession.

For alcohol, 21% of offences were assaults, 20% acquisitive crimes and 19% were public order offences.

The research said that while substance misuse was linked to the offences, they were not necessarily the cause. Other factors  — including mental health, lack of self control, anger problems  — also played a part as did issues such as disrupted family background, lack of parental control, low education and childhood abuse.