Hanna Head

Reducing Drug Policy Harms Through Police-Led Reform: What Works, Where and Why?

Supervisors: Mark Monaghan (UoB) and Teela Sanders (University of Leicester)

The 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act - the overarching piece of legislation that currently outlaws the possession, supply, cultivation, importation and exportation of controlled substances - enshrined prohibition as the primary strategy for addressing the UK drug problem. Calls for drug policy reform are as old as drug policy itself (e.g. Berridge, 2013) and frequently promote responses where people who use drugs are supported and treated if required, rather than punished (Royal Society of Public Health, 2016). For others, reducing harm can occur through non-enforcement of the law.  Various police forces around England and Wales are now adopting alternative approaches to policing drug use away from strict law enforcement either through de facto decriminalisation or through diverting drug offenders away from the criminal justice system.

This project looks at the origins of the impetus for police-led law reform and provides an overview of cases (n= 3 to 5) where new approaches have been adopted to address the drug problem. In doing so, It will also consider some of the barriers and facilitators to more widespread police-led, diversionary policies elsewhere. It will highlight the contextual similarities and differences between reforms and seek to assess the impact of these schemes on police resources, re-offending and measures of drug policy-related harm and the sector. 

Research Aims & Questions: 

The overarching aim of this study is to uncover how and where police-led drug law reform has been implemented, by whom and in what circumstances and with what outcomes? 

  1. What is meant by drug-related harm and how is this manifested in specific locales?
  2. What is the theory of change behind reform schemes?
  3. How are reforms understood by those designing, developing and implementing such schemes?
  4. What is the emerging evidence from the reforms?
  5. In what way can the evidence base for diversion from local forces be used by Release and partner organizations to promote future evidence-informed future interventions?


  • BA (Hons) Business Economics, Solent University
  • MA Comparative Drug & Alcohol Studies, Middlesex University

Research Interests

  • Drug Policy
  • Drug Policing
  • Drug Harm Reduction


Hanna has an MA in Comparative Drugs & Alcohol Studies from Middlesex University, where she received the Yvonne Heard Award in Criminology for Best Postgraduate Dissertation for her work on drug policy in higher education. She has worked as a research assistant for Release, and a university policy analyst for Neurosight, while also being a student member of the TEF Subject Panel for Social Sciences in its test year. 

Hanna was also awarded a scholarship to attend the week long workshop “Understanding the Gendered Impacts of Drug Policy” at the Central European University, Budapest in 2018 where she had the opportunity to focus on the gendered aspects of public policy surrounding drugs with an international lens. 

Outside of academia, Hanna has been involved with the Labour Campaign for Drug Policy Reform as an ambassador, and also held a role as the secretariat for the APPG for Drug Policy Reform. She has been a trustee of Solent Students’ Union as part of her role as a sabbatical officer, Yellow Door (formerly Southampton Rape Crisis & Southampton Women’s Aid) and Mentor, a national drug education charity.

Contact details

Email: Hxh998@student.bham.ac.uk

Twitter: @_HannaHead_