A survey conducted by the Probation Service found a very high rate of drug use among offenders aged 20 or younger on supervision in the community.
Almost 90% had a history of abusing alcohol or drugs, with 70% doing so on a weekly basis.
The research, Drugs and Alcohol Survey 2012, involved a detailed exam-ination of 721 young offenders under supervision on December 3, 2012. It found:
* 628 (87%) misused alcohol, drugs or a combination of both;
* Alcohol was the substance most misused on a weekly basis (40% of men and 44% of women);
* Cannabis was next highest for men (20%), followed by misuse of prescription drugs (9%);
* Cannabis and prescription drugs were equally the next most common drugs for women (14.5%).
Probation officers told researchers that misuse of substances was “linked directly” to the current criminal behaviour of 508 (70%) of all 721 offenders and 80% of the 628 who misused drugs.
Alcohol was linked to the current offending by 46% of offenders (including 62% of females). Alcohol together with illegal drugs was linked to the offending by a further 19% of people.
Illegal drugs on their own were associated with 16% of criminal behaviour, with prescription drugs and cannabis each linked to 7% of crimes. Heroin was involved in 1%-2% of cases.
Public order was the most common crime linked to substance misuse, followed by assault and theft. The figures are broadly similar for male and female offenders, though one exception is for female offenders under 18. Within this group, assault accounted for 55% of crimes, compared to 20% of mails in that age group.
The research found that substance abuse began as young as age eight, with 22 offenders starting aged 10 or younger. The number increased “dramatically” from age 12 up.
It found that almost 90% first used with their peers. This, it said, was in line with research referring to a “wet culture” in Ireland and Britain, where young people’s drinking is “essentially normal” and part of a wider process of socialisation into adulthood.
The survey found almost 40% of drug-using offenders had parents who misused, in most cases alcohol.
The research said that while there was a “strong association” between substance misuse and crime, it did not necessarily mean one caused the other, adding that the relationship was complex.
It said unstable and chaotic homes had a major impact and said initiatives such as the Strengthening Families Programme — which teaches parenting skills as well as teaching coping skills to children — helped both parents and young people.
The report said most young people abusing drugs had not accessed any treatment and that this was a “particular cause of concern”.