A new report into Drugs in Prison from the Centre for Social Justice (a think tank formed by Iain Duncan Smith in 2004) sets out a three-pronged approach for tackling drugs in prison, and notes, sensibly that the three prongs are inter-dependent:
- Drugs must be kept out of prisons;
- Demand for drugs must be reduced;
- Drug addicted prisoners must receive effective support into recovery.
However, the report’s own press release and the media coverage concentrated almost exclusively on the first supply reduction goal, focusing on the introduction of body scanners.
The report is based on the contributions from respected organisations and individuals in the substance misuse field and includes academics and practitioners and also involved some interviews with prisoners.
Drugs have been a substantial problem in prisons for decades and Prison Inspection reports over the last eighteen months have highlighted the increasing ease with which drugs are available inside and the rapid growth in the use of Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS or Legal Highs), particularly synthetic cannabinoids, primarily Spice.
The most recent Drugscope Street Drug Survey also highlighted the abuse of two anti-convulsant prescription drugs – pregabalin and gabapentin – inside.
The CSJ study reports that 31% of prisoners say it is easy to get hold of drugs in prison. Although there has been a recent increase in the number of seizures of drugs (see this post), it is clear that a tiny proportion of the drugs intended for prison are intercepted. The report suggests that corrupt prison staff are increasingly responsible for smuggling drugs into prison.
Although it is obvious that the main reason that such large quantities of drugs get into prison is to feed the demand of the many dependent drug users inside, it has long been a significant concern that as many as one in five heroin users took the drug for the first time in custody.
In addition to recommending the introduction of body scanners to every prison, the CSJ report makes a number of recommendations including:
- Improving the intelligence about drug use in prisons, partly by analysing waste water (to find out the concentration of different substances) and a more focused use of drug testing
- Making the smuggling of NPS into prisons illegal
- Stopping any maintenance-based drug treatment with a sole focus on abstinence and recovery (a hallmark of any CSJ report)
- Improve the quality of drug free wings
- Connect prison and community drug treatment better – including not releasing prisoners on Fridays when most services are shut over the weekend
- Ban smoking in prisons so that staff and prisoners are not exposed to Spice through passive smoking
Some (but by no means all) of these recommendations are rational and helpful. However, they all rely on the one thing which is in shortest supply in the modern prison service – funding. There used to be a number of high quality drug free wings in different establishments, but the reduction in staff numbers has meant only too often that drug free wings become the places in prison where drugs are most easily available.
Similarly, the cost of introducing body scanners is calculated at about £15 million before the costs of maintenance, staff training etc.
It is a shame that the report’s recommendations are not as balanced as its analysis of the drug problem in prison. It is important to restrict the supply and availability of drugs in prison, but our understanding of drug markets tells us this can never be fully achieved. It would have been good to have seen a recommendation for the availability of Naloxone pre-release to reduce the high number of overdoses and drug-related deaths shortly post-release.
Focusing on supply reduction is always the easiest political route but the hardest to achieve in practice.