The woman charged with running a pioneering scheme to help vulnerable people break away from a life of crime knows what it’s like to live under the shadow of addiction.
Anna Baker is the manager of the Checkpoint Cymru programme a new initiative by North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones which aims to help keep minor offenders out of trouble and out of the courts.
The 44-year-old was brought up with a grandmother who was addicted to prescription drugs while her sister, Anna’s great aunt, who was alcohol dependent ran a pub in Hampshire.
Anna, who has worked as an area manager for a charity running drug intervention programmes in North Wales, will head a team of nine ‘navigators’ based across the three regional police divisions, east, Central and West.
Their job is to supervise and offer guidance to minor offenders given the chance to avoid prosecution and a criminal record by seeking courses of help and support from rehabilitation services in the community after signing a contract to say they will comply and not re-offend during that time.
The offenders must successfully complete the agreed rehabilitation contract up to a maximum of four-months or they will face prosecution and a criminal record if they fail to do so.
They will be supervised by a skilled “navigator” – which may include people who have overcome addictions to drugs and alcohol – and will be charged with the original offence if they break the contract at any time.
Serious offences such as rape, robbery or murder are not eligible for Checkpoint and neither are driving offences, cases of serious domestic abuse or serious hate crime or assaults against emergency services
At the same time, another initiative based on a different pilot project, the Bristol Drugs Programme, which has been equally successful is also being introduced.
People caught with small amounts of drugs will be steered towards educational awareness courses similar in principle to the ones for drivers caught speeding and those who take part can avoid a criminal conviction.
Anna, a Welsh-speaker originally from Llanfair PG, on Anglesey, who had been in charge of the Commissioner’s digital media and online presence, said: “Very often the people we deal with are the victims of crime as well as the perpetrators.
“Checkpoint was developed by Cambridge University and pioneered in Durham and we were the first police area in Wales to adopt it and we are doing it in our own bespoke way.
“Rather than the traditional catch and convict it’s about addressing low-level offending and stopping those responsible becoming caught up in the criminal justice system, breaking or preventing the cycle of offending
“The first thing is to find out what led them to offend and it could be drugs or alcohol, job loss or homelessness.
“We are working closely in partnership with North Wales Police who employ the navigators and we are extremely grateful for their support”
“I know what it is to have a family member with an addiction issue because my grandmother was addicted to benzodiazepines she was prescribed for anxiety and depression after several bouts of cancer and bereavement in the days when family doctors handed them out like sweets.
“My grandmother would look after me when my parents were in work and often in the summer holidays I would accompany her down to Hampshire to stay with my great aunt.
“It made things incredibly difficult for my parents because people didn’t know how to deal with this back then and it meant that I had seen things as a child that you shouldn’t have to see. My parents did everything they could to help her, it was heartbreaking.
“At the same time no-one who saw us as a family would have been any the wiser but it’s what happens between those four walls.
“The Valium my grandmother took gave her a sense of escape from her worries and fears but I’ll never forget finding her when she had overdosed.
“At the time there had been a scene in BBC’s EastEnders where Angie Watts had overdosed and her husband, Den Watts, was trying to walk her round the room and throwing water in her face.
“I was trying to drag my grandmother out of bed and splashing water on her face to revive her, but she was such a proud lady and so well thought of and people just didn’t know this side of her. She hid it very, very well. She was a kind lady who did a lot of voluntary work locally yet no one knew the suffering she faced in silence. We were very close and I always held her in high regard.
“It shows that this kind of thing can happen to any of us at any time and tip us over the edge and the aim of this project is to offer help to people who might otherwise get caught up in crime. There was little help back then for issues like the ones my family faced, and I doubt we were in the minority. It’s much less of a taboo subject now and there’s far more support out there for people.
“Regardless of all the challenges we faced as a small family for many years, I was raised in a loving and supportive home and my background has made me who I am today. I just wish I could have helped my nain in the way we can help people today.”
Other forces are following suit and is now also being introduced in Dyfed-Powys Police have also adopted it along with the West Midlands, Cleveland and Avon and Somerset forces.
Early indications are that it does have a dramatic effect on reoffending – in Durham only four per cent of those on the scheme reoffend compared to 19 per cent dealt with by the courts.
Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones, a former police inspector himself, said: “Checkpoint improves life chances because people avoid getting a criminal record, which can affect their future employment and education opportunities.
“It may even save lives by directing people away from criminality and substance abuse and it could also save the public purse a lot of money because the cost of imprisoning someone now costs £65,000 and £40,000 for every year after that.
“Checkpoint is aimed at people who have committed a lower level of offences and rather than taking them to court we can intervene and use skilled navigators to direct them to the appropriate services to address the underlying causes of their offending.
“I would stress that it’s not a soft option – it will be hard to complete but if the subject successfully completes the contract and does not reoffend, no further action will be taken against them.
“If they reoffend or fail to complete the contract they will be prosecuted and we will inform the courts of the circumstances of their failure to complete the contract.”