Ministry of Justice figures have revealed that the number of illegal drug seizures in prisons across England and Wales is on the increase. Port of Call looks into the matter further and asks what can be done?
According to recent Ministry of Justice figures, in 2013/14 there were nearly 4,500 cases of substances being confiscated from inmates compared with 3,800 in 2010/11.
At HMP Oakwood, near Wolverhampton, the number of inmates found with drugs rose nearly six-fold between 2012/13 and 2013/14 – rocketing from 7 seizures to 47. Over the same period, Birmingham Prison saw their number of drug seizures nearly double from 38 inmates found with drugs, to more than 70.
Officials are quick to point out that these trends are due to better screening methods rather than an issue spiralling out of control. “Staff at our prisons work hard to keep drugs out of prisons and these figures demonstrate our robust security measures, which include the use of intelligence led searches and specially trained sniffer dogs, are working,” Prisons Minister, Andrew Selous, told the BBC.
He added: “Random drug tests show the numbers testing positive have fallen dramatically over the past 15 years. But prisoners should be absolutely clear, we take a zero tolerance approach to drugs and those caught should know they run the risk of seeing time being added to their sentence.”
The National Offender Management Service adopts a range of security measures to detect contraband items at the point of entry to the prison and within the prison grounds itself. In recent years they’ve found that legal highs, like synthetic cannabis “spice”, have become far more common in jails.
The unpredictable effects of such substances are a major concern to prison authorities, according to Caroline Cole, from the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust. “We’ve seen people behaving in extremely unconventional ways – ways in which we would not expect people to behave,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. According to a report in the Guardian, Mark Ike, of the Prison Governors Association, agreed, adding that “spice” could be linked to a rise in prison violence and was an ongoing concern for prison officers.
A spokesman for drugs policy foundation, Transform, told the Guardian: “If we cannot keep drugs out of prisons, what hope is there for success elsewhere? This is the inevitable result of the combination of a lucrative business and a captive customer base who are desperate to mentally escape.
“The solution to this complex problem is to be found in reducing the prison population by improving the lives of some of the most damaged people in our society, not by simplistic tough on drugs rhetoric.”
Martin Preston, founder of Port of Call, said: “The main concern for us is that people suffering from drug addiction receive the appropriate support and treatment at the right time. Most dependencies carry an element of escapism and that is clearly a contributory factor fuelling inmate drug abuse.
“It seems that this problem isn’t going to go away any time soon. We would hope that there is a robust support network in place to treat and rehabilitate inmate drug abusers. Certainly, we would advocate a programme of intervention at the earliest opportunity to aid recovery within a structured programme of detoxification and rehabilitation.”
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