What is being done in Norwich to break cycle of drug-related thefts?

Many people in Norwich have to deal with the impact of crime on their lives every year.

Those crimes are indiscriminate, unprovoked and totally undeserved. A handbag stolen, a car broken into or a house burgled – often these crimes have a common related theme, drugs.

The people committing such crimes are commonly looking to fund a habit, whether that is drugs or alcohol, to get the fix they need.

But what is being done to try and break this vicious circle of crime in our city?

Earlier this month Judge Peter Jacobs jailed a Norwich man, Charles Marrison, for continuing to steal despite already being issued with a court-ordered drug rehabilitation.

Marrison, 33, of Woodward Road in Mile Cross, was handed nine months in prison for stealing various items from Mousehold Garden Centre on Saturday August 4. Judge Jacobs, who was appointed the first Honorary Recorder for Norwich City Council in 2008, branded Marrison's situation as 'depressing'.

But is the cycle of crime getting worse in Norwich? Are drug-related crimes on the rise?

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Official statistics cannot paint a totally accurate figure, as crime figures are not officially listed as being drug related.

But the number of drug offences in Norwich is on the rise, up from 738 between August 2010 and July 2011, to 862 between August 2011 and July 2012, a rise of 124.

Superintendent Paul Sanford, Norwich policing commander, pointed out that recorded crime figures for drug offences were reflective of the amount of police time dedicated to searching people for drugs. He said: 'There always have been and always will be a proportion of people who live chaotic, drug-fuelled lives, sadly, and that means crimes such as break-ins and car thefts for people to fund their habits.

'There is a clear link between drug abuse and that type of crime. Whilst statistics make it difficult to paint a picture of that, what we do find with individuals is that if you can divert them away from their peer groups, you do see a reduction in their re-offending.

'But it is a very difficult cycle of crime to break. There is a hardcore group of offenders across the county who create a disproportionate amount of crime.

'I don't think the amount of users is increasing but the types of drugs we are dealing with are diversifying.'

Latest figures provided by the Fingertips health and wellbeing indicators service, which has been developed by the East of England Public Health Observatory (Erpho), show that there were 2,650 adults in structured drug treatment during the 2010-11 period.

This amounts to 4.39 people receiving drug treatment per 1,000 people, the fourth-highest in the east of England region.

Peterborough has the highest rate, with 8.69 in every 1,000, ahead of Southend-on-Sea at 7.71 and Luton at 7.22.

These figures are not available specifically for Norwich but the county-wide figures leave Norfolk above the regional average of 3.77 per 1,000, although 4.39 is lower than the 4.42 recorded for 2009-10 and 4.48 for 2008-09. Isabel Pollock. head of service delivery for adults at Norcas, which helps fight drug, alcohol and gambling addiction in Norfolk, does not believe the problem is getting worse either.

She said: 'It's a complex situation but at the same time, there are crimes, and there are victims, so it is not about giving people a little hug.

''Of course there are challenging individuals, there are in every walk of life. The really difficult thing is getting the right kind of help and support. We know what the employment situation is in Norfolk, it's bad.

'It's getting the other stuff in place that would make it easier for this person to address their emotional behaviour or drug problems.

'And if there aren't houses and aren't jobs, and it's other professionals that you are having to deal with, that can be really challenging.'

Ms Pollock said that Norcas' internal figures show that 32pc of people on drug rehabilitation requirements (DRRs) with the organisation cite housing as one of their problems in self-assessments, such as not having a permanent home.

This compares to 19pc of non-DRR clients saying that housing is one of their main problems.

She also pointed to an overwhelming 95pc of Norcas's DRR clients being not in employment, education or training (NEET), compared to 61pc of non-DRR clients.

Ms Pollock continued: 'It's a hard one to measure though, because being on a DRR makes it very, very difficult to be employed as well because you've got to be in groups, you've got to meet a lot of requirements.

'But what we know about the employment situation is that there are very few jobs out there and if you've got a criminal record then it makes it very difficult.

'What needs to be in place is the right kind of multi-agency working, because a lot of the time it goes beyond a drug problem.

'They might have an undiagnosed mental health problem, they might have a learning disability which makes it difficult for them to get into employment of any kind or some other kind of un-met need. It's very difficult to assess when someone is using drugs or alcohol to work out whether that is causing what could be diagnosed as a mental health problem, or whether there is a mental health problem and they are self-medicating.

'So it's a complex picture and it goes beyond the immediate problem.'

In the case of Charles Marrison being given nine months in prison for his thefts at Mousehold Garden Centre, Supt Sanford said he was 'delighted' to see such a stern sentence.

He said: 'We do see the undoubted merits of rehabilitation quite often, but the best way to protect property owners and store owners is detaining people. That period of time allows people the time to turn things around.

'We are also continually looking to police the transport of drugs into the county, we are certainly looking to break that supply, and we have had some high-profile successes.

'But every time we take one out, there is a back-draft and another group looking to fill the gap.'

He also issued a clear warning to people considering stealing to fund their habits, adding: 'Behind every crime there is a victim and offenders should think long and hard about what they are going to do and they should be absolutely clear that the police will put the victims first. We will make every effort to detect offenders and put them in front of the courts.'

What do you think? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE or email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk