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Prisoners (Drugs)

Volume 174: debated on Thursday 14 June 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will institute a policy of screening all prisoners on a regular basis for the use of dangerous drugs.

All new receptions are seen and interviewed by a member of the health care staff and are asked whether they have ever taken drugs. Indications of the use of drugs by injection are looked for at that time. We are considering whether some form of subsequent screening, whether for clinical or control purposes, should be introduced.

Has my hon. and learned Friend seen the study in the British Medical Journal of 26 May this year which showed that 66 per cent. of convicted drug addicts had found needles in prison and injected with them? Might not that contribute to riotous behaviour in prisons?

We certainly want to reduce the amount of drug taking in prisons, and I shall happily write to my hon. Friend explaining the large number of measures that we are taking to deal with the problem. I have not seen the survey to which he referred; I shall look at it. Of course, much depends upon accounts given by prisoners, whose reliability may be in question, and the thorough searches that we conduct in a number of establishments do not reveal anything like that picture. But we are by no means complacent.

I should point out to my hon. Friend that we are under pressure to improve regimes and to have more civilised visiting arrangements. The consequence of allowing visitors and prisoners easier access can be an increase in the risk of drugs being passed on. So we are damned if we do and damned if we do not. Nevertheless, we want to solve the drugs problem and we are taking steps to deal with it.

My hon. and learned Friend will be as aware as I am that it is common knowledge that drugs are freely available in most of our large prisons. There is a leakage. Whether it is through staff or visitors, or whether the prisoners bring drugs in, there is clearly a great security problem. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that a thorough survey of the security of prisons in this respect would he advantageous?

I entirely accept what my hon. Friend says, although I think that it is easy to overstate the problem. More than 90 per cent. of the finds involve cannabis and only 3 per cent. heroin and cocaine. I assure my hon. Friend that I hold meetings to try to ensure that we upgrade our activity and that questions such as the extent to which visitors should be searched are under active consideration. We must be careful not to exaggerate the problem, although I am aware that running a disciplined prison is made all the more difficult if there is ready access to drugs. We must do something to ensure that that does not happen.