A pilot randomised controlled trial of alcohol screening and brief interventions in the police custody suite setting

 What are the aims of this project?

The project aims to evaluate the feasibility of a future trial of screening and brief alcohol intervention delivered in police custody suites to improve arrestees’ health (alcohol consumption and health problems) and social harms (antisocial and re-offending behaviour one year after the intervention). Outcome data will include both self-reported measures at the follow-up as well as interview data to explore participant views about acceptability of the interventions in this setting. The study is also exploring the extent to which offending measures via custody records and the Police National Computer (PNC system) can be used to measure outcomes in this setting. Thus we are trying to establish if it is possible to link these data with NHS records and will engage with local leads for the Cardiff Model which is actively trying to link NHS and criminal justice records in local areas.

Why is this important?

This project will contribute to understanding of interventions that are able to be deployed in the UK to reduce alcohol consumption and also related health and social harms; a key outcome of the trial will be an understanding as to whether a definitive trial is feasible in the challenging context of police custody suites. Ultimately, we hope to continue to assess the impact of brief intervention on alcohol-related offending behaviour which has a large social and economic cost for the UK. Interventions to reduce alcohol problems are of keen interest to policy-makers at a national level (the team has links with the Ministry of Justice and Department of Health through the recently completed SIPS trials) and also in local Authorities (health and well-being boards are concerned with alcohol-related antisocial behaviour and fear of crime in their areas). This study will also contribute to the cross-cutting themes of reducing health inequalities. Offenders tend to be males, younger individuals (18-30), from socially-deprived backgrounds who tend not to be in contact with health services. Once an individual has been arrested and charged, their on-going contact with the criminal justice system can further adversely influence their life chances. Consequently, policy-makers are keen to identify diversionary activity that encourage individuals to remain in the community rather than in prison which has an enormous economic cost to society.

 How will the research be carried out?

A pilot controlled trial with cluster randomization of screening and brief alcohol intervention in police stations/custody suites. All screening and brief intervention delivery will be carried out by staff working in the custody suite setting including Detention Officers and drug and alcohol workers.


The study began on the 1st April 2014 and is due to be completed on the 30th September 2016.

 Who is undertaking the research?

The research is led by Eileen Kaner (FUSE) , Matt Hickmann (Bristol), Alan Brennan (SCHARR).

How are stakeholders being engaged?

We have discussed aspects of the study with over 20 individuals incorporating public, practitioner and policy-maker perspectives and these have helped shape our ongoing work. Regarding public and practitioner involvement, we have engaged with service users at Lifeline, the Newcastle User Carer Forum, staff and service users at the People’s Kitchen and the development officer at CLINKS which supports voluntary sector organisations working within the Criminal Justice System. Feedback has indicated that it would be helpful if mental health problems were more specifically addressed in the study. There were mixed views on the issue of incentivising participants and with some concerns from practitioners about financial incentives. However, service users felt that an incentive such as food, or time out of cell, should be provided for participating. We spoke to a number of rough sleepers and homeless individuals who emphasized that their transient lifestyle and general wariness of the police makes them challenging to follow up at 6 & 12 months; they suggested that we make links with local homeless organisations. Regarding practitioner and policy-maker groups, we have engaged with the National Association of Chief Police Officers (NACPO); with the Ministry of Justice, Public Health England, and the Police Commissioner’s Office in the North East; the latter three groups are represented on our trial steering committee. A summary of the review findings was presented to policy makers from Public Health England, Department of Health and the Home Office on the 17th September 2015 at Wellington House. We have also discussed early findings with the Behavioural Insights team (Ross Broad, Simon Rudda) and the ‘What Works’ team (David Halpern) and the work is registered on the What Works Crime Reduction research map.


What will be the outputs from the study?

Presentations and papers from the project will be listed here.

Protocol paper published in Pilot and Feasibility Studies:

Birch J, Scott S, Newbury-Birch D, Brennan A, Brown H, Coulton S, Gilvarry E, Hickman M, McColl E, McGovern R, Muirhead C, Kaner E. A pilot feasibility trial of alcohol screening and brief intervention in the police custody setting (ACCEPT): study protocol for a cluster randomised controlled trial. Pilot and Feasibility Studies 2015; 1:6 DOI 10.1186/s40814-015-001-7

The research is led by Eileen Kaner (FUSE)