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Containment and care? A qualitative interview study exploring police custody staff views about delivering brief alcohol interventions to heavy drinking arrestees

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Ruth McGovernORCiD, Dr Lisa Crowe, Emerita Professor Elaine McCollORCiD, Professor Dorothy Newbury-Birch, Professor Eileen KanerORCiD



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Taylor and Francis Ltd, 2020.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


© 2020 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Heavy alcohol use and associated needs are prevalent amongst arrestees. The custody suite offers an opportunity to identify and intervene with this population. However, it is unclear whether functions of care can be effectively delivered within an environment of containment. This study aimed to examine custody staff experiences of screening and delivering brief alcohol interventions to heavy drinking arrestees. Qualitative interviews were conducted with 25 custody staff (detention officers and assessment, intervention and referral staff), involved in a pilot feasibility trial of alcohol screening and brief interventions in the police custody suite. We examined the tension between containment and care using concepts of role security and therapeutic commitment to guide our analysis. Our findings show that custody staff considered brief interventions to be legitimate in the custody suite setting, although there were differing views relating to which staff are best placed to deliver them. Detention officers reported vacillating therapeutic commitment to intervening with heavy drinking arrestees, compounded by some arrestees being perceived to be ‘undeserving’ of care. Tensions inherent in the need for ‘containment’ as well as ‘care’ must be addressed if brief alcohol interventions are to be implemented within the custody suite.

Publication metadata

Author(s): McGovern R, Crowe L, Addison M, Hickman M, Kidger J, McColl E, Newbury-Birch D, Kaner E

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy

Year: 2020

Volume: 27

Issue: 6

Pages: 436-444

Online publication date: 27/01/2020

Acceptance date: 14/10/2019

Date deposited: 13/02/2020

ISSN (print): 0968-7637

ISSN (electronic): 1465-3370

Publisher: Taylor and Francis Ltd


DOI: 10.1080/09687637.2019.1684445


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