Use Your Head, Don't Lose It

node leader
16 February 2016

The use of NPS is both a public health and media concern, with a recent report from HM Inspectorate of Prisons suggesting that those engaged with the criminal justice system, including prisoners, are among the groups most likely to use NPS.

Despite being an illegal Class B drug ‘Spice’ (a synthetic cannabinoid) alongside other NPS, is being smuggled into prisons. Due to Spice’s lack of scent, it can be difficult to detect its use in cells or shared areas. After use, prisoners have shown aggressive and violent behaviour towards other inmates and prison staff.

The long term effects are largely unknown, and as well as the risks to physical and mental health, there are also cases of individuals getting into debt which can lead to intimidation and violence.

Person-centred support

Phoenix Futures work in 13 prison establishments in England including male, female and young people services, with a combined caseload of over 9,000 individuals in 2014-15.

Our 45 years’ experience in substance misuse provides a solid foundation of evidence based treatment programmes to tackle the challenges presented by NPS and emerging trends quickly and flexibly. Our prison models address changes in national and local needs by providing service users with a flexible menu of group modules that are tailored to the individual, working in a person-centred way. 

Phoenix Futures’ Building Futures model is designed to be responsive to the needs of individuals within prisons, proving harm reduction advice and appropriate psychosocial interventions and aftercare.  The case management and intervention teams work together to provide the tailored model, designed to enhance individual Recovery Capital and ensure prisoners have a seamless package of care support from custody into the community.

The programme is effectively executed though collaboration with a multitude of partnership agencies and stakeholders, ensuring best practice is implemented and continuity of care is maintained. Building Futures effectively supports service users at all stages of recovery to access treatment and recovery services best suited to their individual needs.

Harm reduction and minimising risk

In response to the challenges faced by the rise in NPS use, NPS is covered in all induction sessions and referral processes have been put in place for any prisoner suspected of taking NPS in custody to highlight them to psychosocial support.

As part of a targeted NPS harm reduction campaign across our prison services, staff worked in partnership with healthcare teams to promote the support available to prisoners. To widen the reach of the campaign, literature (including posters and leaflets) warning of the dangers of Spice were designed in collaboration with the Phoenix Marketing and Communications team.

In combination with wing surgeries, one-to-one support and group sessions, the resources aimed to raise awareness of both the effects and dangers, developing awareness across the prison establishment. NPS information stalls in shared areas targeted the wider prison population with drop-in sessions, presentations and information packs. Leaflet drops in cells reached a greater number of prisoners, including those not already engaged with Building Futures programmes.

NPS groups led by Phoenix Futures staff raise awareness of the impact substances have on the individual, both psychologically and physically. The groups focus on the associated dangers and act as a forum to discuss the issues openly and honestly. Working alongside group sessions, one-to-one keyworking sessions directly challenge NPS use and related behaviours.

Peer consultation and partnerships

As part of the wing surgeries, prisoners were supported to share their experience of using NPS and were engaged in tasks to test their knowledge about NPS, opening up peer-to-peer discussions facilitated by experienced staff. Guest speakers visited our Therapeutic Communities in our Central Lancashire services to speak directly to staff and prisoners about their experience of NPS and its effects.

“The success of wing surgeries and our NPS interventions within the prisons has been clear to see. Our caseloads have seen a significant increase and more and more prisoners are seeking support and help. Our Peer Supporters have all been trained in delivering NPS advice and interventions, and have proved a valuable source of ‘on the ground’ support to prisoners.” London Locality Manager, Phoenix Futures

Alongside the work with service users, Phoenix staff deliver sessions to prison and partnership staff to raise awareness and understanding across the prison estate. This includes training sessions for frontline staff and partner organisations providing information and raising awareness of the risks, what NPS may look like, slang terms used by prisoners, potential signs of usage, how to reduce harm and the intervention tools available.

Sharing our learning

• Approaches to NPS need to take into account the influence of the environments in which they are used, the related behaviours and motivations

  • As in community settings, NPS use should not be treated in isolation. Phoenix Futures psychosocial model works to support long term behaviour change and recovery

•  Working jointly with prison staff, healthcare teams and other partners is key to sharing and promoting good practice


Download a copy of our report here.


Phoenix Futures is a registered charity in England and Wales (No 284880) and in Scotland (No SCO39008); Company Limited by Guarantee Number 1626869; Registered Provider of Social Housing with Homes England (H3795).