Dr Rob Ralphs

Dr Rob Ralphs is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology and co-convenor of the interdisciplinary Substance Use and Addictive Behaviours (SUAB) research group at Manchester Metropolitan University.  His 20 years of research and expertise spans both substance use and drug markets including school surveys of drug use, research exploring the barriers to employment for ex-problematic drug users funded by the UK Drug Policy Commission, and the largest in-situ study of clubbers in the UK. 


Rob will be working alongside Dr Rebecca Askew, who is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology. Rebecca’s three main areas of study include the positives, pleasures and functions of substance use; innovation and evolving approaches involving the consumption and distribution of illicit substances; and drug policy reform.

“Our paper, ‘Adding Spice to the Porridge: The development of a synthetic cannabinoid market in an English Prison’ was published 7 December 2016. The findings highlight (1) the scale and nature of synthetic cannabinoid markets in a custodial setting and the motivations for establishing them; (2) the nature and motivations for synthetic cannabinoids use in prison; and (3) the impact synthetic cannabinoid markets in this setting have upon prisoners, the prison system and the wider criminal justice system. Our findings led us to propose a revision of the use of mandatory drug tests (MDTs) in prisons.”

“Our findings are directly relevant to policymakers grappling with one of the biggest crises facing the prison system. The Ministry of Justice, HM Inspectorate of Prisons and the Prison and Probation Ombudsman have all addressed the use of novel psychoactive substances within prisons as a primary concern and the issue has gained a great deal of media attention over the last year.”

“We hope to accelerate policy innovation in the field by collaborating with Volteface in the curation of a symposium. The symposium will bring together ministers, civil servants, policy experts and stakeholders in the prison system to develop new policies.  We will work together with Volteface and policymakers after the symposium to draft new policies.”

“Volteface released ‘High Stakes: An Inquiry into the Drugs Crisis in English Prisons’ on 8 December 2016 which advocates a review of prison drug policy to respond effectively to the growing problem of novel psychoactive substance markets in English prisons. The report made some similar proposals to our paper including revision of the use of MDT in prisons.”

Volteface is a think tank looking at alternatives to current drug policies. We cultivate fresh thinking and new ideas via our online and print magazine and an ongoing programme of private and public events. We cover the policy and politics of drugs from the perspectives of science, health, lifestyle, culture, business and economics. Our ambition is to broaden the range of voices and perspectives to enliven and elevate this debate. Volteface works with an array of partners across civil society, business, media and government to foster public engagement, formulate new evidence-based policy ideas and as a thoughtful advocate for change. We are UK-based and focused whilst engaging with ideas and practice from across the world.

For more information, head over to their website: http://volteface.me/