The Drug Education Programme (DEP) is a programme that offers individuals caught in possession of drugs a one-time opportunity to attend a course on the topic of addiction within Avon and Somerset.

Charlotte Pritchard, Senior Commissioning and Policy Officer at the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset, spoke to us about the Drugs Education Programme (DEP) with current updates provided by Caroline Elwood, Out-of-Court Disposals Manager for Avon and Somerset PCC.

What inspired this project?

After acknowledging that there was minimal support for addiction within the Criminal Justice System despite many crimes being related to drug addiction, the Avon and Somerset Problem-Solving Team partnered with Swanswell, a national recovery charity, to develop DEP which recognises drug addiction as a health issue. 

About DEP

Funding and delivery

Operating since April 2016, the DEP is funded through the Advice, Support, Custody and Courts Service (ASCC), the NHS, and Avon and Somerset PCC. The programme was initially only available in Bristol but after successful outcomes and public praise, it has been operating force-wide since 2019.

Up until April 2018, the programme was carried out by Swanswell but it is now being delivered by the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust (AWP) as part of a five-year contract in conjunction with the police.

Eligibility and course requirements

The DEP offers a one-time opportunity to attend a course addressing drug addiction and the consequences of drug use within a health and legal context. Regardless of the offending history of the service user, if they are willing to engage in such an intervention at the point of arrest, they can be referred to the DEP at the discretion of the arresting officer. It is important to note that the course is only available for drug possession offences for personal use and not for possession with intent to supply offences.

Upon successful completion of the programme, the crime will result in no further action (NFA). However, if they fail to attend the course, the service user will be given a conditional caution. They will also not be re-referred if they attend the course but then re-offend as it is a one-time opportunity. All in all, the expected outcomes of the programme are reduced re-offending rates, reduced demand for health services, and improved relations between communities and the police.

Group sessions

The programme consists of a group session that covers educational topics around addiction which are based on a health package that also seeks to address the legal implications surrounding drugs. The groups are mixed gender as well as a mixed level of service users as it provides a good dynamic for learning and experiences. Also, the programme is only for those over 18 however, a similar scheme is available for young people aged 10-17 known as the Youth Alcohol and Drug Diversion Scheme (YADD). This is delivered by the local Youth Offending Services as well as drug services and instead involves a one-to-one session. 

A pioneering model

Charlotte perceives this programme to be innovative as it is a “pioneering health intervention embedded” within the criminal justice system and provides “a new approach to policing”. As a result, the model has been recognised by other forces who are exploring how to implement it within their areas.

The impact of the pandemic

Due to the pandemic, the course has been facilitated online and will continue to be until September 2022. Compliance rates have increased as a result of it being delivered virtually as this method compensates for travel issues or anxiety, etc. Accordingly, the team at Avon and Somerset PCC are currently discussing the logistics of having the option for the programme to be delivered face to face as well as online.  


The DEP is currently undergoing an evaluation and reviews are being undertaken by Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust (AWP).

If you would like to learn more about this project, please contact Rebecca Marshall, Pathway and Partnership Coordinator for Avon and Somerset Police, at


This case study was compiled and edited by Jaskirat Mann in 2018 and updated by Maysa Clam in 2022

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