Background: This article draws on the evaluation of the pilot Drug Recovery Wings (DRWs), which were introduced ten prisons in England and Wales, with the intention of delivering abstinence-focused drug recovery services. The DRW pilots can be seen as representing the extension of the recovery paradigm – so prevalent elsewhere in UK drug policy – to the prison system. This study aimed to provide a detailed account of DRW prisoners’ expectations and experiences in the transition from prison to the community and explore the potential for ‘doing recovery’ in prison and on release. Methods: In-depth, qualitative interviews were conducted in prison with 61 prisoners across six of the DRWs. Follow-up interviews six months after release were conducted with 21 prisoners and 26 ‘recovery supports’ (people identified as being close to the prisoners). Data from one, other or both sources was available for 36 prisoners. All interviews were fully transcribed and coded. Results: The majority of the 61 had long histories of alcohol and/or opiate dependence, childhood adversity, undiagnosed mental health problems and few educational qualifications. Nonetheless, many had long histories of employment – mostly in manual trades. The majority described themselves as being ‘in recovery’ at the time of the first interview in prison. While one of the main aims of the DRWs was to support prisoners’ recovery journeys into the community, this aspect of their work did not materialize. Professional support at release was largely absent or, where present, ineffectual. Many were released street-homeless or to disordered and threatening hostels and night-shelters. Only three of the 36 were fully abstinent from drink and drugs at time of re-interview, although some had moderated their use. A substantial number had returned to pre-imprisonment levels of use, often with deeply damaging impacts on those around them. Discussion and conclusions: This research suggests a fundamental contradiction between recovery and imprisonment. In large part, imprisonment serves to erode recovery capital while, at the same time, making psychoactive substances readily available. Looking to the future, every effort should be made to divert substance users from imprisonment in the first place. Where that fails, the primary aim should be to reduce the erosion of recovery capital during imprisonment: through family support work, providing proper housing, training and education opportunities and ensuring a graduated reintroduction of prisoners into the community.
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- Recovery capital