It is a great pleasure to be speaking from the Floor of the Chamber under your chairmanship, Mr. Benton. As you know, I frequently occupy the seat that you are currently occupying. May I ask you to convey to Mr. Speaker my gratitude for permitting me the opportunity to raise the issue of drugs policy in prisons?
When I first decided to pick up the baton and run with it, I knew very little about the subject. I had some feelings about drugs, but I had no idea of the problems that they cause in Her Majesty’s prisons. I have learned a good deal more about drugs thanks to Lexington Communications, which sent me an executive summary and a full copy of the report by—let me get the title right—the Royal Society of Arts commission on illegal drugs, which was a two-year study by academics, drug workers and senior police officers on illegal drugs, communities and public policy. I have read some of the report and I shall probably try to read the rest of it, because it is engaging. I was also helped by the Library, which sent me its debate pack, which is also full of relevant material.
What I want to talk about is not really drugs, but the manner in which we try to regulate, manage and control the use of drugs in Her Majesty’s prisons and the difficulties that that presents to the loyal service of prison officers, who are doing their best to cope with an increasingly difficult situation. I should like to touch on a number of the increasingly difficult problems.
The high availability of drugs in prisons has a corrosive effect. I am afraid that anxiety is growing about the inadequacy of current Government policy to combat the supply and distribution of drugs, which are reported to have reached epidemic proportions in the United Kingdom generally. Researchers estimate that the UK has 360,000 problematic drug users. Britain has a higher recorded rate of opiate use than anywhere else in the world, and our consumption rates of cocaine and amphetamines are arguably the highest in Europe. The Home Office has estimated that the social cost of drug abuse in Britain alone is between £10 billion and £17 billion a year. We should therefore be in no doubt about the scale of the problem.
Western attempts to destroy the opium poppy crop in Afghanistan have met with fierce opposition in Helmand province, where British armed forces are currently engaged. The harvest is now 30 times what it was in 2001. The industry is worth $3.1 billion, and the local population depends on it, of course. That cycle of dependency is mirrored in the British drugs trade, which is apparent in our local communities and even in our prisons.
According to the recently published report to which I have referred, the current system is “crude, ineffective” and “riddled with anomalies”. The authors of the report urge a radical overhaul of drugs policy to take account of the criminal, social and health problems that drug misuse causes. Polling evidence indicates that the public are ready to consider an alternative approach to tackle the spiralling drugs culture—an approach that advocates pragmatic reform and addresses the harm inherent in the current system.
The Prison Service is struggling to cope with the high availability in its prisons of illicit drugs, the prevalence of which is blighting local communities. Cell searches regularly turn up large quantities of drugs. Substantial investment in treatment programmes to wean offenders off addiction is futile without stringent measures and resources to fight the supply and distribution of illegal drugs in prisons.
Selling drugs in prison is a lucrative business because drugs command a large fee when smuggled in. Various methods are deployed to circumvent measures to detect and eradicate the supply, sale and distribution of drugs, the sources of which are numerous. Prisoners’ friends and relatives are often found trying to smuggle drugs into prisons during visiting time. It has been known for prisoners to use children to shield themselves from the view of CCTV while they swallow the drugs or insert them in some quite intimate places. Drugs have been found hidden in clothing or nappies: as prisoners are permitted physical contact with their children, they can retrieve drugs from clothing with relative ease. Prisoners are highly aware that prison staff will not intervene to intercept the passage of drugs, in order to safeguard the child from further risk of harm.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this excellent debate. I tabled a question to the Home Office the other day about the number of prison staff investigated for trafficking drugs or prohibited articles. The reply from the then Minister, the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), was that 64 members of staff were investigated last year, but she also stated that it was not possible to determine how many of them were found to have had such items in their possession. Surely the Home Office should know what is going on and be much more open in its replies to hon. Members.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He is a very experienced Member and well versed in the legalities of this country. I shall be coming to that very point as I move further into my speech.
Smuggling practices can be difficult for prison staff to detect, owing to the different methods used by male and female smugglers. Female couriers secrete drugs in cling film or balloons, swallowing the items before they are arrested. Visitors are regularly found, or are caught on CCTV, removing illicit items from their person or attempting to pass drugs to the prisoner. Visitors smuggle drugs in their mouths and place them in food items that are available from the visiting hall.
Drugs command a large fee once they are in the prison system. Drugs smugglers are paid between £50 and £100 to bring in illegal substances, with little or no risk to the prisoner concerned. Both prisoners and their visitors flagrantly defy the controls put in place to stem the flow of drugs into prisons. Ex-prisoners who are still heavily involved in the drugs trade carry out visits, as do strangers. Prisoners often ask staff whether visitors have arrived, only to be informed that their visitors are sat at the table waiting for them; the prisoners, not knowing who their visitors are, cannot recognise them. There is a form of discipline involved that is pre-organised.
People are encouraged to breach their bail conditions by entering prisons packed with drugs. Vulnerable prisoners are bullied, usually by drug dealers, to persuade friends or members of their families to smuggle drugs into prisons. In many cases violence is used to intimidate and frighten prisoners. Assaults on prisoners and staff have dramatically increased as a result of greater vigilance to stop the influx of drugs on prison visits. At present, staff intervention offers the only means of halting the supply of drugs on prison visits, but that endangers both the staff and others.
Prisoners suffer assaults if they fail during a visit to acquire drugs intended for another prisoner. Slashings across the face and scalding with hot water or hot sugar to intensify the pain and scarring are common brutalities. Addicts in prison acquiring drugs on tick, with no money to pay the dealer, are threatened and their immediate families are intimated to recover the debt owed.
To avoid the pressure to smuggle, visitors have pleaded with officers to be banned from prisons or have admitted that they have made attempts to introduce drugs. However, prisons do not act on such information or seek to establish the reasons why visitors smuggle drugs. When denied access to family visitors, prisoners may begin to self-harm and it is thought inadvisable to provoke that kind of reaction.
For every drug capture in the visitors’ hall, it is thought that 20 successful passes go undetected by staff or CCTV. Staff can monitor only prisoners identified as a problem. Desperate to fight an escalating drugs trade, the Prison Service resorted to using sniffer dogs to detect drugs on prisoners and their visitors, which proved to be extremely effective. However, the regular training that the dogs require to maintain successful detection rates is not adequately resourced. When the dogs are retrained, no contingency measures are put in place. As a result, the drugs trade within regains its foothold on the system and starts again.
Prisons are seeing an increase in drug smuggling through prisoner correspondence. Letters in and out of prison are censored by correspondence departments, which find on average 10 to 12 items containing drugs a day. Another ruse used by prisoners and smugglers to evade detection is falsified legal correspondence. Letters from solicitors are privileged and officers are prohibited from opening them. Drugs are usually detected by a manual check of the mail, an X-ray or sniffer dogs, yet vast quantities still get through to the inmates.
Prisoners are permitted to receive items of clothing and although X-ray machines screen items sent into prison, drugs are found stitched into the labels of garments.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the subject of his debate. Does he agree that drugs can enter by less sophisticated routes? At Pentonville, my local prison, cannabis and other drugs are simply being thrown over the wall.
The hon. Gentleman must have read my script; I am coming to just that issue.
CCTV cameras are not fit for purpose. People brazenly throw drugs or firearms components over prison walls, safe in the knowledge that although they can be seen doing so, the cameras are not sharp enough to distinguish features. Criminals can therefore escape easily without fear of detection. The problem is compounded by a shortage of cameras and broken-down equipment that waits months for repair, the cost of which is prohibitive to the Prison Service. New CCTV operators require formal training, which, not unlike the cameras, is in short supply. When evidence of drug smuggling is gathered, prisons are unable to prosecute offenders because the evidence is not sufficiently robust to substantiate a charge and punitive action.
At present, the Prison Service carries out mandatory drug tests on only 10 per cent. of the prison population, yet figures show that more than half the prison population are using drugs. That means that drug testing is four and a half times below the level required to tackle substance misuse—and that does not take into account the many addicts on our streets and in our local communities. Unsurprisingly, prisoners on drugs go to great lengths to avoid giving samples for testing. They carry non-drug users’ urine in phials about their persons to obtain clean test results if they are subjected to a random test.
Of course, non-drug users are quick to realise that there is money in selling samples of drug-free urine to addicted prisoners. Despite the best efforts of staff to search prisoners before they are required to provide a sample, prisoners still manage to cheat the system. Prison officers’ powers are limited because they are forbidden to carry out intimate searches that would expose that illicit practice. However, even that deterrent would be unlikely to be of consequence to a determined user, who faces no retribution on failing to produce an unadulterated sample. If he is caught with drugs in his urine, nothing happens. Officers carrying out the tests are unable to conclude with any certainty which prisoners are on drugs.
The Prison Service is to be commended on its commitment to assist offenders to overcome addiction. It has invested heavily in drug treatment programmes. Prisoners who sign up to such schemes must consent to compulsory drugs testing, but that condition is proving to be no hardship, as prisoners can choose when to be tested and commonly falsify the results. If they have signed up to be tested occasionally, they can simply go to prison officers and say, “I’m ready to do my test now.” That takes them out of the system until their next turn around. Treatment programmes evoke sympathy, but are all too often labelled as the definitive solution in the war on drugs. They are not a panacea, or why would prisoners who enter prison without a drug problem be discharged from prison with one? The problem is growing because of our inability and the ineffective system within prisons.
Drugs are common in all prisons in England and Wales, yet it seems that methadone substitutes are the currency of choice for dealers and distributors. To feed their habits, many addicts resort to crime such as violent robberies and the targeting of the most vulnerable in society, especially the elderly, as they seek money for drugs. When addicts request help, doctors prescribe methadone substitutes, which can be purchased illegally for between £1 and £5 a tablet, but command anything between £50 and £80 in prison. A booming trade ensues, creating an unscrupulous yet profitable business. Once an addict is in possession of a prescription, it is not uncommon for him to sell it or the medication separately so that the drug finds its way once more into the local community and distribution system within the prison.
Prison staff provide an essential and valuable service to the public. Working in an extremely challenging environment, prison officers risk their personal safety to confront—without appropriate back-up—volatile, abusive and illegal behaviour on the part of visitors and prisoners. Much greater, sustained public sector investment is needed in the Prison Service to address the steady increase in the availability of drugs in prisons, and particularly to combat drug smuggling. Extending treatment programmes to tackle the effects of drugs by preventing consumption is all very well, but that is of limited use without rigorous measures to stop their supply and distribution.
Drugs use in prison—the scourge of substance misuse in the community—is often framed in the context of crime figures, and the trade itself is portrayed as a problem confined to and orchestrated by a limited number of dangerous criminals. Focusing our attention exclusively on achieving unrealistic targets in the fight against crime fails to acknowledge and confront the scale of the problem, leaves prisons unable to cope and consigns our communities to decay. Urgent action is required. The Prison Service needs support, resources and an unequivocal commitment to tackle the supply of drugs in addition to any efforts to treat addiction. Eliminating the passage of drugs into prisons would enable communities inside and outside to recover from a culture of criminal violence that is intolerable, insupportable and unendurable.
The evidence clearly shows that the Prison Service is currently ill equipped to prevent the supply and distribution of illegal drugs in prison, which have reached epic proportions. At best, the Prison Service is merely holding back the tide of the drugs trade. At worst, it is being swallowed up by it. A problem of such magnitude and of concern to us all demands immediate action. It is recommended that the Government commission an investigation urgently and identify what resources can be made available to the Prison Service to fight the cause of the problem, and not just the symptoms.
That is the end of my formal brief, and I am happy to have put it on the record. I also engaged in interviews with officials from the TUC and the Prison Officers Association, who are all concerned about the matter. In my closing remarks, I shall mention some of the points from the minutes of our exchanges.
The more hardened criminals, I was told, coerce more vulnerable inmates into allowing their families to be used as mules, as they are called, to carry in drugs, and a compliant inmate and his family can earn as much as £200 to £300 a visit. The problem is not only the drugs, but the cycle of violence that they cause inside and outside the prison. I am told that it is easier to obtain illegal substances inside jails than in society. Cell searches regularly turn up large quantities of drugs, not just the odd wrap. Unofficial transactions inside are based not only on drugs but on mobile phones and, of course, the threat of violence—where would we be without the threat of violence? That leads me to point out that I would like to be part of the debate upstairs this afternoon, but there we are.
The cameras employed are not fit for purpose. If we can take photographs from space with the Hubble telescope, and heaven knows what else, why cannot we improve the standard of the CCTV cameras to provide a more discernable image outside? I would have thought that deploying more and better cameras would be a fairly simple and, if we engage in bulk buying, cheap exercise.
I have mentioned the national uniform testing regime under Prison Service rules, where 100 randomly selected prisoners a month are, as they say, MOT’d. Of course, once those 100 have been MOT’d and been given their clearance, they can carry on, safe in the knowledge that they are hardly likely to be tested again for some time. According to the team that I interviewed, of the last sample of 100 who were tested, 44 tested positive. Some tested positive for Subutex, which is an increasing element of the problem.
Responsibility for health in prisons was passed across to primary care trusts last April. I am sure that it was done for the best of reasons, although some in the service say that there are doubts about whether it is any better now than it was before. One of the serious problems that it has led to is that inmates can now more easily obtain paracetamol. One might not think that is a problem, until a prisoner overdoses on paracetamol. That, too, might not seem to be a problem, but when that inmate has to be taken to the local hospital for attention, staff have to be taken out of the prison to engage in escort duties. The complement of staff in the prison is reduced, which places increased duties on those who remain behind.
I want the Minister to admit that the Prison Service has a problem, that it is getting worse and that it needs attention. It is not merely a question of throwing money at the problem: we have to examine critically and clinically the regimes that we have that disallow staff conducting searches and scrutinising prisoners’ and visitors’ activities in the prison. I am told that many claims are made for the Phoenix therapeutic course, which supposedly weans voluntary participants off drugs, but in many cases it has the opposite effect. Those who have signed up can go along for their test whenever they feel like it, get clearance, and then go back and continue to do what they were doing before. We must be careful about accepting statistics that are derived from such sources of information, and circumspect about the validity of the claims that are made.
I have some direct questions for the Minister. He is a straight man and I have known him well for quite a long time. Does he agree that there is a growing problem? Does he agree that it needs more attention? The most I can ask in such a debate, in this place and at this time, is whether he will agree to investigate the subject on our behalf.
The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Frank Cook) has done the House a service by introducing the debate this afternoon. What came through in his comments was the considerable frustration of prison officers who have to deal with the problem every day. Sometimes we josh about the Prison Officers Association, but prison officers do a difficult job with great patience and are much to be commended. I have a slightly different take on the subject; one of the great advantages of being a Back Bencher is that one can have a slightly different take on things. We have to accept that a culture or subculture of drug taking has become endemic in parts of society. The test for the Prison Service is the reoffending rates.
Prisons are bloody miserable places, and that is not because people are not being properly looked after. We tend to have an image of prison rather like the television series “Porridge”, with jolly old lags having fun teasing the prison officers. Actually, they are mostly full of rather pathetic people who are addicted to substance abuse, drug abuse or alcohol abuse and who have practically no levels of literacy or numeracy.
We should start from the principle that the punishment is being deprived of freedom, that prison takes away a person’s freedom, and that society takes away that freedom for a period based on a tariff. The objective should be to try to ensure that when that person is released from prison they do not reoffend. The reoffending rates in this country are pretty horrific. Generally, people go back to the communities from where they have come and offend again—they burgle or steal to feed a drugs habit. Perhaps we need to accept that certain prisons and certain wings of prisons will be places essentially to rehabilitate drug and substance abusers.
The reason that I am taking part in the debate is that I spent part of last Friday in Oxford with a charity and non-governmental organisation called SMART, which is in part funded by the Home Office. It does excellent work. Many of the people working on the SMART project are ex-drug users who have been clean for a long time and spend a lot of time mentoring and helping people who have a drugs problem. They said to me, “Look, it’s very difficult for us. We want to help people in prison, but by the time our team has got clearance from the Criminal Records Bureau”—as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, prison governors understandably want to ensure that drug abusers do not come into prison under other guises—“it is difficult for us to exercise mentoring abilities in prison, but we have been through this. We have done it.” Bullingdon prison is in my constituency, and maybe we should just accept that one wing at Bullingdon, for example, will be a therapeutic wing for people who are there to try to get off drug abuse by whatever means are possible.
We also need to support organisations such as SMART, which themselves and with volunteers meet people coming out of prison literally at the prison gate. They say that the money that such people are given as a discharge grant often disappears in the car park, so they meet them at the prison gate and mentor them. They take them and find them accommodation, which is often not easy. They support them through those crucial few days and weeks and try to find them a job. It is not easy to find a job if one is not literate or numerate or has poor skills. Again, that needs to be addressed in prison.
We have a system that goes back, I suspect, to the late ‘60s, when there were a number of prison escapes and we classified prisoners as A, B or C under the Salmon reforms. Perhaps serious drug abusers and dealers should be in a particular category so that they spend time simply ensuring that when they leave prison, they have no more excuses and cannot say that they cannot get work. They should have no excuses for not going clean and staying off drugs.
I understand the frustration of prison officers—they rightly believe that someone is taking the Charlie out of them by abusing the system—but we might need to rethink what prison is about. Parts of prisons, or some prisons, should be seen almost as therapeutic centres. The punishment is taking away prisoners’ freedom and detaining them for their tariff, but the objective is that when they leave prison they do not reoffend. I do not wish to caricature the hon. Gentleman’s speech, but if the prison experience is simply a game in which prisoners try it on with prison officers, all that happens is that when they come out into society they persist in trying to take on the system for life. We need people who come out of prison and want to get on with their lives, get clean of drugs, find employment, settle down and not reoffend.
A large number of my hon. Friends wish to take part in the debate—indeed, it is so popular that not one but two members of the Opposition home affairs Front-Bench team are taking part. I wish finally to say that we all owe a debt to a report issued the other day by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. One of the most alarming things in it was the estimate that there are something like 70,000 professional drug dealers in the country—those who make drug supply a business. There should be no mercy for those people, who look upon dealing in drugs as almost an industrial enterprise.
All of us suffer, whether our constituencies have run-down housing estates or are in relatively prosperous areas, like mine. In my constituency places such as Banbury and Bicester, just off the M40 extension, are soft targets and drug dealers come in. The SMART team told me that in Banbury or Bicester people can text for drugs, and that it is as easy to get a delivery of drugs as to order a pizza. They were not being in any way alarmist, just matter-of-fact. I find that extremely frightening, and I hope that we can continue to ensure that police forces—drug squads used to deal with this issue, but it is now part of serious crime—have the resources to bear down on people, often in cities, who see the supply of drugs as a business. They are truly evil, and every effort should be made to disrupt and prevent their activities and bring them to justice. They prey on our communities and our children.
In the limited time that I wish to take I shall not go into the report of the Royal Society of Arts, save to say that I disagree with the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). I was disappointed by the vagueness of many of its conclusions and the attempt to be all things to all people. That is the problem with drugs policy and has been for generations. It is a cross-party problem and has been for generations, and it affects our prisons significantly, as was pointed out clearly by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Frank Cook), who needs to be congratulated on his initiative in securing the debate.
It never fails to amaze me that we do not learn from abroad or, in this context, from home. Scores of lessons can be learned from abroad, but we British seem not to bother learning them, especially on drugs policy. At home, I tell the Minister that there is a secure unit, where nobody gets out and it takes rather a long time to get in. It is in my constituency and has 1,700 or 1,800 employees, all unionised, and is the biggest Prison Officers Association branch in the country. It is Rampton, and those who go there do so with many different addictions.
Anyone who wants to study addiction in this country can examine what happens in Rampton, an environment that drugs do not get into. They do not get in because the POA members there are honest citizens. It is so difficult to get in and out, even for those who work there, that if there was ever a bad apple among them, they would have to be incredibly inventive to manage to smuggle anything in. There is little evidence of drugs circulating in Rampton, so the nature of addiction and addictive disorders can be studied there for a lifetime. We do not use that experience.
If people who have addictive personalities—a small proportion of those who are on addictive drugs—cannot get their drug of choice, they take something else. In a place such as Rampton it is boot polish, meths—the old story—or anything that is available. If nothing is available and such people are locked in their cells, they adopt a different addictive abnormality. That is documented at Rampton in individual detail, and we have not used that evidence to inform our drugs policy, as we should. There is a lot to learn, and I strongly recommend that the Minister considers that and meets the POA at Rampton. Its members there are probably more informed on the matter than they realise.
I wish to challenge one aspect of Opposition policy, not to score points but to contribute to the debate. On what the hon. Member for Banbury said, his party suggested in the Scottish elections that £100 million should go on residential rehabilitation in Scotland. We have residential rehabilitation—it is called prison. When I did my heroin inquiry I spoke to the majority of heroin addicts in my constituency, virtually all of whom had been in and out of prison regularly. I found that many of them had committed crimes in order to get into prison. Why? Because that was the one break that they could give their families from their repeated low-level offending. There were countless examples of people fighting to claim responsibility for the same crime because there was a potential prison tariff. Prison is a rehabilitation for them—I call it a comfort break from the lives that they live outside.
What does that mean for policy? The problem in prison is that there is a whole group of people who have offended and many of whom are bad instinctively. Some of them are there purely because they have a drug addiction and steal repeatedly because of it. What we do not do in this country is treat them.
Everybody wants to be an expert on drugs. If someone in prison had cancer, they would get treatment, and there would be no surprise as to how that was done. When it comes to drugs policy, all sorts of people earn a good living talking about drugs and doing things about them, but the people who should be treating drug addiction are the doctors. The evidence from my constituency, as from most parts of the world, is that doctors who treat addiction have a far better chance of getting rid of it. In terms of prison policy, that means that the treatment opportunities available outside prison should also be used inside prison.
I congratulate the Government on what they have done in that respect. I pushed hard to get methadone maintenance programmes into prisons, and the Government agreed to introduce them, after a lot of pressure. In that respect, I read an article today about some of the successes at Wandsworth prison. Such moves help staff in prisons, who tell me that their key fear relates to dealing with prisoners who get access not to drugs, but to needles. Such prisoners may start threatening or stabbing prison officers, and that is a particular problem where needles are shared and there is a danger of hepatitis C, which is the most common problem. I would not want to be in the position of those prison officers, with prisoners sharing needles and potentially stabbing me as I went about my everyday work, because that could be life threatening to me.
What we need is effective GP provision, but what I see in prisons is a mish-mash of vague ideas. There is this vague concept of rehabilitation, which is all things to all people, and my advice to Conservative Members is that they should define it. My definition is that people get the same treatment inside prison as they get outside and that the first thing they do when they leave prison, rather than being ferried around by countless police officers and drugs workers, is continue their treatment with their own GP, in their own GP practice, in their own community. The evidence from my constituency, like the evidence from Sweden, France, Australia and other countries, is that that approach works. It does not work for everybody, but it has the same success rate—about 60 to 70 per cent.—as with any other illness that involves relapses.
That is the policy that we need and it is a sensible policy in prisons. If it is to be effective, we should give additional punishments for what would then be the unnecessary use of needles in prison. We should target such use in particular because it would break the logic of drugs treatment in prisons and it is the biggest hurt and danger factor for prison officers and other staff.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann). To pick up on his comments about Rampton prison, I was a criminal solicitor for 12 years and visited a number of prisons, including Rampton. As his remarks show, the absence of a supply of drugs at the prison and the way in which residents are treated there is exceptional in some ways. That is not least because residents in Rampton are there primarily under mental health provisions and are very much at the extreme end of offending. Rampton is also exceptional in terms of the resources that go to it, as opposed to other prisons, and resources are an issue for several prisons, not least my local prisons of Pentonville and Holloway.
As I said, I made several legal visits to prisons over a number of years, but it was not until Monday that I had the opportunity, with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), to visit Pentonville and Holloway to see a little more of what they were like inside. I certainly would not describe the experience at Pentonville as a comfort break—far from it. Given the structural problems faced by prisoners in inner-city prisons such as Pentonville, those who seek, quite properly, to bring about true rehabilitation—I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s words in that regard—face great difficulties from the word go. The problems that Pentonville has had in dealing with basic safety issues have certainly been well documented. Those who come to Pentonville and other prisons have chaotic lives, which are predominantly affected by alcohol, drugs and poly-substance misuse. They also have low literacy levels—those of a 12-year-old, on average—and there are problems with family breakdown and the like. When people come to the prisoner reception area in that state, it is difficult to think of anything to do with rehabilitation, and stability is the first port of call.
In the cells at Pentonville, I saw how opportunities for rehabilitation in the general sense of the word are limited by the time spent in the cells. This may not be the case, but my clients told me that they spent 23 hours in a cell. There would be two of them, eating there, using the toilets there and the rest of it. Efforts are being made to introduce some kind of activities, but they are extremely limited, not least by capacity. Pentonville is full, and the prospect of making the place safer is prescribed by that limited capacity. Indeed, that is true up and down the country, and when the Minister deals with drugs policy and rehabilitation, he needs to respond to the basic point that our prisons are full. How can we deal properly with rehabilitation in those circumstances?
To bring hon. Members up to date, Pentonville has responded to the report about it and to concerns about deaths in custody, and it is now seeking stability, which is an improvement. Such changes have come about because of the introduction of the Central and North West London Mental Health NHS Trust as a provider, and that is to be commended. However, progress is extremely limited and consists, in effect, of simply being able to give low-level prescriptions for methadone and being more sensitive to the needs of those arriving in the prison. As I suggested, that sensitivity is limited, with prisoners queuing up to be assessed to see whether they need treatment. That leads to methadone. The focus is on trying to maintain prisoners on a stable and safe level, but that seems to be about it. That is probably all that Pentonville will be able to manage structurally, although it now has a separate unit to deal with substance misuse, which is extremely welcome. The unit’s managers are making every effort, but their actions are prescribed by several things, including, not least, the prevailing structure and funding.
My hon. and learned Friend and I also visited Holloway on Monday. Holloway is the most improved prison and has received awards for the improvements that it has made in terms of rehabilitation. Again, it has a separate unit to deal with substance misuse, and the whole environment there is much more conducive to rehabilitation; it is based not so much on the Victorian prison set-up as on a hospital regime. In that, it is similar not least to Rampton.
The improvements at Holloway were also based on clear leadership, and leadership is vital in our prisons. We talk about the problem of revolving doors, and I certainly saw that with my clients, who were in and out of prison, having been affected by alcohol and drugs. That is a particular problem for prisons such as Pentonville, which has many short-term prisoners who go off to other prisons or out the door. At Holloway, however, the issue has been leadership. As with other prisons, what happens at Pentonville is affected by the governors, who do not stay long, but move on after 18 months at the most. Holloway, however, has had steady leadership over a number of years, which has enabled it to introduce improvements. It has therefore been able to make significant progress on drug rehabilitation, and that is to be commended.
Unfortunately, such progress is limited. One trigger point for drugs policy and intervention funding from the Government appears to be deaths in custody. Obviously, such things make the headlines and affect politicians, but dealing with them does not necessarily deal with the underlying problems or reward good progress. Holloway is making good progress on rehabilitation and good management and has been able allocate and ring-fence moneys.
However, there are problems for other prisons. Indeed, Holloway itself is not getting any extra resources for the integrated drug treatment system. That money has not come to Holloway or Pentonville. As for Wormwood Scrubs, £500,000 of its allocated money has been taken away and £325,000 has gone to Brixton because it had a death in custody. So the money is not necessarily being used to deal with rehabilitation or management systems.
There is concern about integrated drug treatment systems, which have effectively been cut by 60 per cent. from the projected funding of £20 million in 2006-07. Funding was supposed to rise to £40 million.
I accept the figures that the hon. Gentleman gives—he has raised the matter with me in parliamentary questions before—but does he accept that the integrated drug treatment system represents new and additional support for drug treatment in our prisons? I accept what he says about Holloway and Pentonville, but the fact that the money is there is a step in the right direction.
It certainly is a step in the right direction, but it has been taken from some prisons that had included it in projections as part of their budgets and planning for rehabilitation. There has been a cut to in-year funding and also for the future, so the good progress that has been made in Holloway may not be sustained to get us beyond the point of simply parking people on a maintenance programme. That may keep them safer, but it does not necessarily lead to the recovery and treatment that everyone wants. We need to get to a stage at which the 28-day programmes are in place, something that the integrated drug treatment systems would make possible.
In conclusion, I want to discuss the way forward. Good progress is being made. The Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust—RAPt—is making good progress in prisons such as Wandsworth, where it is making use of 12-step programmes with a therapeutic element. Those programmes work, ensuring that we do not just maintain people but try to move them towards recovery. The chief executive, Mike Trace, says that it gives results, because recovery and being drug free mean that people can rebuild their contribution to society, including work and family relationships.
Elsewhere, Grendon has its critics, but it has also received plaudits. A recent Home Office report on reconviction rates showed that treatment had an effect on men who attended Grendon, compared with a matched sample of other men. The outcome was certainly affected by the fact that they were there for a good period of time—at least 18 months—rather than going in and out of the door of Pentonville. I invite the Minister to respond with his view of the progress that he saw at Grendon, and how the radical view taken there to therapy might be applied elsewhere.
Another example is “Beyond”, the Bristol Believe project’s holistic approach to reoffending, in which issues such as debt, money management, family structures and relationship issues are dealt with. Those should be attended to, in addition to maintaining people and dealing with their underlying health problems. It is possible to look further afield, too, and what happens in other countries has been mentioned. A successful participant in the RAPt programme made the point that we cannot just deal with issues of safety, but must deal with the whole person, challenging previously negative attitudes and patterns of behaviour, and looking at the link between someone’s drug use and their life. That person now takes responsibility for his life. He says that no one else can make the changes and that he cannot blame others for his behaviour. He now has the opportunity, with a national vocational qualification, to bring other people through to the level of rehabilitation and recovery.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Frank Cook) on securing this extremely important debate. I have just received the annual report of the independent monitoring board that inspects Forest Bank prison just outside my constituency in Salford. It is a young offenders institution as well as a prison for adults, and it is all male. The report is for December 2005 to November 2006, and I thank the chairman, Eileen Howard, and her colleagues, for all their hard work in monitoring the prison on behalf of the prisoners and staff.
The prison opened in January 2000 with a population of about 800, although invariably it has more people than that. Fifty per cent. or more of the inmates come from Bolton, many of them from my constituency. I have visited the prison, which is run by Kalyx Ltd, so it is one of the unusual private prisons. Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons, was very critical of the prison in the year before the annual report that I have just received. Drugs were getting inside in staggering numbers. I saw tables full of drugs. The report contains the following figures, and this is a picture of a good year when there has been a crackdown: 9.885 kg of cannabis, 220 g of heroin, 93 g of cocaine, 43 g of amphetamines, 427 g of steroids and 62 g of Subutex. It will not surprise hon. Members to learn that they were ordered by mobile telephone, and that 355 mobile telephones were confiscated during the year in question, as well as, I dare say, many SIM cards as well. Those are all sold and bought in prisons.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North referred to debts incurred in prison. Those debts extend beyond prison too, as does the intimidation of families. People are visited regularly, and there are no invoices for buying drugs, so those on the outside must take the recommendation of the criminal who knocks on their door collecting debts about the amount of drugs bought by their relative in prison. That leads to massive intimidation.
I want to draw attention to an important fact. The prison put up a vertical net to stop drugs being fired into the exercise yard from an adjacent canal bank, whose tow path is at roughly the height of the prison wall. It is claimed that that has worked, but I have challenged that claim, because crossbows are now being used to clear the top of the net. The people involved are very clever, and will find a way around anything. However, the matter that I want to point out to the Minister relates to the reduced mandatory drug testing rate of 5.8 per cent. in this prison. According to the report—this is not my advice to the Minister but that of an independent monitoring board—the prisoners have switched to using buprenorphine, or Subutex. There are two reasons for that. The first is that the prison dogs cannot detect buprenorphine, which is frankly as good as heroin—it will give that kind of buzz if enough is taken; the second is that in many prisons the mandatory drug testing does not cover buprenorphine. I advise the Minister to check that, but that is what the report says. Mandatory drug testing for buprenorphine is not happening in Forest Bank prison.
I chaired the release of the Royal Society of Arts report the other evening in John Adam street, and the panel discussion was very exciting. We had a dinner afterwards at which the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) was also present. I think that he will agree that the discussion was extremely vigorous, and some very important people were present, including top cops from around the country. The Science and Technology Committee also recently produced a report on the ABC classification of drugs. If I had been fortunate today and Mr. Speaker had reached Question 14 at Prime Minister’s Question Time, I would have asked the question that I put to my hon. Friend the Minister now: in light of the Select Committee report and the RSA report, and, indeed, many other reports going back to Runciman and beyond, is it not time that we looked again at the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971?
In many people’s opinion the Act is out of date and we should include in it tobacco, alcohol and other substance abuse. One of the recommendations of the RSA report was that we should now have a misuse of substances Act. It agreed with the Select Committee that the ABC classification of drugs is useless and that we should consider the Blakemore and Nutt harm index, which I understand was published in The Lancet last week. We should base our drug policies on a harm index, rather than on a useless classification that we argue about all the time. It is surprising where ecstasy lies on the harm index—it is quite low down—and where alcohol lies. It is much higher up. Heroin and cocaine are at the top, of course.
Finally, I want to draw attention to the integrated drug treatment system for prisons, which I understand is now handled by the primary care trusts in the regions where the prisons are. I am disappointed at the 60 per cent. cut this year from £28 million to £12 million. I accept the Minister’s explanation that it is extra money, but it was made available in recognition of the fact that drug treatment services in prison were pretty hopeless and had to be improved. People who go to prison without a drug habit who are not lucky enough to be put on a drug-free wing are intimidated to such an extent that they start taking drugs. Non-drug takers can end up as drug addicts. Indeed, if they start to exchange needles—if they get to that state—they will get HIV, hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases. That is a shame.
A point not made so far is that 73 per cent. of male and 70 per cent. of female prison inhabitants are mentally ill. We should not treat only the drug addiction. All available therapies are needed to treat mental illness in prison, and we should allow dual diagnosis and allow people to be treated both for mental illness and for drug addiction if they are dually diagnosed.
I have been told by inmates at Forest Bank prison about the easiest way to bring drugs into prison. A person who goes to court will see his relatives there. The drugs are passed from the relatives to the prisoner; the prisoner is then transferred back to the same prison—or sometimes to another—and the drugs go back with him or her. I have heard that prisoners are not searched on return from court; it is not realised how many drugs come in via that route.
I am very interested in the subject, and I have a lot more to say but I want to give the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) the chance to speak.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Frank Cook) on securing this important debate. I shall be brief.
Ford prison, as the Minister knows, is in my constituency. Over the past five years, it has been having problems with prisoners absconding from prison at the rate of about two a week. I believe that drug problems are a contributory factor, and I want to explain why.
In 2005, the full report of the prison inspectorate said that nearly half of prisoners at Ford had easy access to drugs; it said that they were largely soft drugs but that
“cannabis was the primary drug found on mandatory drug testing”.
However, the report of the independent monitoring board of November 2006 came to a rather more worrying conclusion. It said that as a result of an increase in the number of shorter term offenders going to Ford prison, a move towards class A drugs was prevalent there. The board said that that was of considerable concern, and it asked the prison to consider providing a drugs dog and to make additional funding available for staff and surveillance to improve the situation.
Following a freedom of information request in February, Brighton’s evening newspaper The Argus claimed that Ford prison was among the worst 40 prisons for drug taking and that one in seven inmates now failed mandatory random drug tests. That situation was thrown into sharper relief as a result of a meeting that I had with prison officers in the House last month that was convened by the Prison Officers Association.
Officers from Ford prison said that drugs were being passed into the prison but that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service had not been sufficiently supportive of those officers who intercepted them, and that when prison officers apprehended traffickers little was done. In particular, the officers said that children as young as 15 were being used as drugs traffickers. Reports of the arrest of a 15-year-old outside the prison have since been confirmed by Sussex police, but as yet no action has been taken and the circumstances of the case are not yet clear. I have written to the Minister about that, and we are due to visit the prison next week—I thank him for the invitation—but if true, it is a serious matter. I urge him to look into the case as part of his inquiry into the continuing security problems at Ford prison.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Frank Cook) on securing the debate, which has provided us with an ideal opportunity to discuss an important and sometimes overlooked subject. I commend other hon. Members for their contributions, particularly the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) who touched on an area that I think is particularly relevant and interesting—the cycle of reoffending. People come out of prison with low numeracy and literacy, often having never done any meaningful work, and having had no fixed abode before going to prison, they have nowhere to live after their release. It would be an extremely enlightened employer who chose to take on someone in such circumstances. How people in that position can be helped to stand on their own two feet and to establish themselves in mainstream society is a huge challenge for us all.
There is no doubt that drug use in prison has reached epidemic proportions. The majority of people going to prison are problem drug users. In 2005, a Home Office spokesman estimated that there were about 39,000 problem drug users in the prison system at any one time—that is about half of the United Kingdom’s prison population. Of them, 66 per cent. of males and 55 per cent. of females sentenced had used drugs in the previous year. Drug use is not the exception in prison; it is more likely than not for those who pass through our prison system.
Other hon. Members who have spoken today touched upon some of the ways in which drugs can be smuggled into prison. They include social visits, the postal system and receptions and occasionally prison staff. Sometimes they are thrown in over the perimeter wall and, as we heard from the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), sometimes they are brought in through receptions after court visits. I understand that in 2005-06 400 visitors were arrested on suspicion of trying to smuggle drugs into prison. However, compared to the scale of the problem, 400 arrests seems a modest tally. The very existence of drugs-free wings tells its own story: it tells of the acceptance of the scale of the problem and of the attempt by prison authorities to manage the problem rather than tackle it. That is the scale of the problem that confronts those responsible for maintaining order and discipline in prison.
The problem is not new and it is not as if the Government have not been alerted to it. Many speakers referred to the RSA report that was published only a few days ago. It stated:
“The inadequacy of drugs treatment in prisons is a serious gap in the chain of treatment for offenders envisaged by the Drugs Intervention Programme…Treatment in prison bears little relation to need but depends more on what happens to be available.”
In a slightly oblique analysis, the report also stated that
“The Home Office favours centralised solutions that impede delivery of a devolved, joined-up policy.”
The RSA report follows on from many other reports that have touched on similar themes. In 2001, a Turning Point report pointed out:
“The growth in the numbers of people identified as suitable for treatment through the criminal justice system is not matched by an increase in available provision. This needs to be addressed urgently.”
The Prime Minister’s delivery unit said in 2005 that
“significant segments of the problem drug-using population are not in current contact with treatment services.”
In August 2006, a Home Office report found that drug use is endemic in prisons. In 2006, the Prison Reform Trust found that no more than 10 per cent. of prisoners with drugs problems were likely to be in intensive rehabilitation in any one year. Only one in 10 prisoners who could usefully be in rehabilitation are receiving that level of assistance.
As is widely reported, we have the highest prison population per head of population in western Europe. That militates against the effective treatment of those in prison. As we heard earlier, ever since responsibility was transferred from the Home Office to the national health service, the NHS budget and the available resources have not necessarily met the expectations that some may have had. I understand that as a result, only 17 prisons are due to benefit from NHS largesse—fewer than one in eight of the major prisons.
Time is short, but before I conclude I wish to make four constructive suggestions. They are more, I confess, to do with reducing demand for drugs than trying to cut supply, which I appreciate is a problem. We all will the end, but getting there is not necessarily that simple.
First, although we can discuss what constitutes drug treatment, it is the availability of drug treatment that is important. Currently, there are only 2,500 residential drug treatment places; such a place costs about £6,000 less per year than a place in prison. The idea that many people find attractive is to use drug treatment centres as an alternative to custody for low-tariff offenders—not just because it saves money, although there is the potential for financial savings, but because it is more likely to have a long-term benefit, such as that mentioned by the hon. Member for Banbury.
Secondly, there should be a presumption in most cases that could result in a very short prison sentence—perhaps of less than three months—that rigorous community punishments might be more effective. It is extremely worrying when people who are not addicted to drugs are sent to prison and leave perhaps two months later having formed an addiction. They have often also been introduced to lots of criminals and their methods, of which they had not previously been aware. That is not in anybody’s long-term interests.
Thirdly, we should try to improve drug treatment for people who suffer from mental health problems. There is a close correlation between mental illness and drug abuse, and many people with severe mental disorders are languishing in prison when they could be treated far more effectively using different mechanisms.
Finally, coming back to the point made by the hon. Member for Banbury, far more discipline and structure should be put into the lives of prisoners in terms of education, training, and work. We should also enable people to save money when they are in prison, as that would ease their passage back into society when they are released.
I do not pretend that any of those measures are a solution; of course they are not. However, I hope that they will contribute to success in solving a problem with which I am sure politicians from all parties are keen to grapple.
As all previous speakers have said, this is an important debate and the fact that there is a debate on the Floor of the House on Trident, which is important too, does not detract from that. Both debates are of equal, but different national importance.
It is all too easy in a debate such as this to get what I call analysis paralysis. We produce facts, figures and evidence from the various reports that we consider it appropriate to use, but we do not come to any firm conclusion at the end of the debate. That is partly the result of having a debate of only one and a half hours: I suspect that the House could quite usefully have a two-day debate on drugs policy in prisons, and even then a satisfactory conclusion might not be reached. None the less, it would be useful to have such a debate because, having shadowed the Minister and Baroness Scotland for 15 months or so, I have found that prisons are a secret world. It is difficult for those of us who go in and out of prisons on a fairly regular basis for official reasons to gain any purchase that would be of interest to hon. Members.
I was particularly struck by the speech of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann). I must write to the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) because on Friday I am visiting Lowden Grange prison, which is not too far from the Bassetlaw constituency. I was particularly struck by the hard-headed—not hard-hearted—analysis that he provided. It is significant that a hospital—Rampton—is able to prevent drug importation, whereas, according to the figures for 2005, Forest Bank prison had about 405 inside-prison finds of illicit drugs. I do not know the reasons for that difference. In Grendon, which is a therapeutic prison in Buckinghamshire, there was one drug find in 2005, yet in what I would call a bog-standard general-line prison the incidence of drugs finds is much higher.
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) was kind enough to mention that I had visited Pentonville and Holloway with him last Monday. I wish that more MPs would make a point of visiting prisons, because if they could see what goes on in prisons they would realise, first, the appalling conditions in which many prisoners live and, secondly and more importantly, the appalling conditions in which many prison officers work.
We care little and do not talk much about the conditions in which prisoners live. I say that with a degree of guilt because I sentence people to prison as a Crown court recorder. I do so because that is what Parliament requires of me and in the process I separate off my political mind. None the less, we expect irresponsible, illiterate drug addicts who cannot add up and are socially and economically inept to come out of prison after the time that they have served as angels. In fact, we do very little with people when they are in prison that is of purposeful and positive use. As I have said, it is a secret world. Some prison officers work for 20 or 30 years of their adult lives doing their best to look after the most irresponsible and difficult collection of people that one can possibly imagine, yet we pay little attention to the difficult circumstances in which they work.
What are we going to do about the problem? Three interesting reports on the subject have been published in the past two years or so, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Frank Cook) for initiating this debate because it allows us, if only briefly, to highlight some of the facts contained in those reports. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons annual report 2005-06, which was published not long ago, has a section on the problems of drug use and drug dealing and what we do about trying to recover drug addicts in prison. It is well worth reading and, if I had more time, I would take the House through some of the recommendations in that report in greater detail.
The social justice policy group—which was not of my party, although it was chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith)—also produced a report. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate is on the addictions working group, and it was in that guise that I went with him last Monday to Pentonville and Holloway. He is quite right to describe the marked differences between the regimes for dealing with drug addiction in Pentonville and in Holloway. As he said, Holloway is like a women’s hospital—at least the part of the prison dealing with substance abuse and addiction is. Pentonville was a bolt-on bit to a Victorian prison where—I repeat this because it is important—there are some fantastically dedicated prison officers and health staff doing a terribly difficult job, in appallingly cramped conditions, dealing with an appalling turnover of prisoners.
Last October, I spoke to a prison officer from Pentonville who said that in the nine months from January to September 2006, they had already had 50,000 prisoner movements through the reception area. How can a stable resettlement and rehabilitation process be run in such conditions? How can someone be taught to read and write, and to deal with their anger and inability to express themselves in a coherent fashion rather than use violence? How can damaged and damaging individuals, such as those I have seen in the Crown court before I sent them off, be turned around? How can prisoners be drawn back from drug addiction and substance abuse in those conditions? They cannot.
Within a few months, many such short-term prisoners—inadequate, damaged and damaging people—go back out on to the street. There, they have no contact with the primary health care system—they are not the kind of people who would have that. They do not have doctors, or a regular job; they live hand to mouth in a chaotic way. Yet we expect them to appear at the probation office at a given time on a given date to take part in some drug rehabilitation or recovery course. It is simply unthinkable that they will do so.
Essentially, at the end of their prison sentence, we throw such people out of the back of an aeroplane without a parachute. We expect them to land safely back in the community and behave themselves. We do not teach people responsibility in prison—in prison people have responsibility removed from them, and afterwards they are put back out on to the street—irresponsible once more—to go back on the carousel. I see them again in the Crown court, JPs see them again in the magistrates courts, and prison officers and health staff see them back again on the prison estate.
I think of our visit to Holloway the other day. It was particularly true of some especially vulnerable women prisoners there, who are drug addicts, that prison is the only place where they feel safe. It is the only place where they are not preyed upon by pimps or drug dealers. It is the only place where they feel that there is some order in their lives.
If I could translate the regime at Rampton into the wider male and female prison estate, something might be achieved. I am a Conservative, and I do not want to see endless use of public money without a proper underlying planning system. When I was at Grendon, however, I asked the prison governor, “Are you a hospital with bars, or a prison with doctors?” He said, “I am a prison with doctors, but if I was a hospital with bars my budget would be about five times as much.”
We have a choice. We can brush the problem under the carpet and say that prisons and prisoners do not matter, or we can apply our minds sensibly and coherently to dealing in a civilised and humane way with a vast social problem. That problem is to be found outside prisons and inside prisons. The people who take drugs outside prison end up in prison, and the people who take drugs inside prison end up outside prison.
I appreciate that I am trespassing on the Minister’s time, but I am really quite passionate about this subject. I want the Government, not to feel that they are being bashed by the Opposition because they are not doing enough—although they are not—but really to grasp the problem and deal with it in a sensible way. Progress will be slow, and it will take a lot of work, political capital and bravery on the part of Ministers. If the Government do take up the challenge, however, it might be that the reoffending problem mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) is dealt with. It might be that we can deal with the disgusting practice of 15-year old children being used as drug mules to take drugs into prison. It might be that we can also reduce the problems that the hon. Members for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) and for Taunton (Mr. Browne) described.
I have said enough. Actually, I have not said half enough, but I must stop. I urge the Government to take some serious steps. They must not simply brush the problem under the carpet. It is too important.
I start by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Frank Cook) for securing the debate. He focused on the problem of drugs in prisons from the perspective of the Prison Service. I fully appreciate that, and I am grateful to him for putting on the record, as shall I, our thanks for the work of prison officers and of the Prison Officers Association.
The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) has said that the work is difficult, and I wholeheartedly agree with his comments about the world of prisons being a secret one. The quality of the debate today is the result of hon. Members’ experiences with prisons in their constituencies or of professional involvement over many years. I certainly do not see the debate as one that has focused on party political points, except for some of the comments of the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne), and they were only incidental.
There is clearly a major problem to face. I have been the prisons Minister since May 2006. When I was appointed, I reflected on my experience and my opinion of the criminal justice system as an elected MP and before that as a councillor. I have to say that previously I had put offenders in somebody else’s box—they were something that the criminal justice system dealt with. They were not my responsibility. I had to concentrate on education, health, regeneration and the variety of things that we wanted for our communities. The reality, however, is that offenders are from those very communities. As such, although they have to be punished if necessary, they must afterwards be reintegrated into those communities. That is what needs to happen, and I agree with the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) that the task is one of tackling reoffending. Whatever the issues around the supply side, we all agree that the prison population is too high and that we need to drill down and discover the reasons for reoffending. In economic terms, reoffending costs the country £11 billion.
I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. However, the hon. and learned Member for Harborough has referred to the fact that only a short time remains for the debate, and getting to the core of all the important points that hon. Members raised will be difficult. I do, however, give a commitment to reflect on the debate and read the Hansard report, because there have been some good ideas and proposals that merit consideration, particularly in relation to stopping drugs entering prisons by the routes that have been described, some of which are ingenious.
It would be wrong not to set the context as the hon. and learned Member for Harborough did. Hon. Members present in the debate are experienced in the problems that are faced by prison officers and inmates, but many of our colleagues in the House and in our wider communities are not au fait with what is happening in prisons. They see the banner headlines that say that sentences are too long or do not fit the crime, but we need to try to get people to understand what is really going on in our prisons. As the hon. Member for Banbury said, prisons are not comfort zones. Anybody who has been in a prison knows that the regime is a difficult one, including for the people who work in prisons—officers and governors and the like.
It appears that hon. Members have not appreciated the increase in spending on drug treatment. Spending has gone up from £7.2 million in 1997 to £78 million, which is a 974 per cent. increase. However, I agree that it is still not enough to tackle the difficulties that must be faced. We must look at how to improve the situation. Part of that must be stopping illegal drugs entering prisons, but I accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), who faced the drugs issue head on in his own constituency, on his own initiative. He gathered evidence and made recommendations on drug treatment and on how to deal with drugs in our society.
We will consider what has been said about Rampton. If it is so successful, we should learn the lessons that it has to offer. As has been said, Rampton is a hospital. The money that is coming in from the health service is key. I understand the point that was made by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) and I acknowledge the work that he has been doing in connection with his local prisons—Holloway and Pentonville—and the visits that he has made in a professional capacity. The money is additional money. I accept that it was not as much as was anticipated, and had the money not arrived that could have been seen as a cut. However, the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that Wandsworth has now received its full year’s worth of money. Deaths in custody had nothing to do with it. The relevant considerations were actually geographical spread and geographical need. As I have said, however, the money is additional spending, and it embodies what the hon. and learned Member for Harborough has asked of the Government—that we consider the detail of what can be done in our prisons.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North mentioned the RSA report, which was published only the other day. We have some concerns about the data that were used in that report, and I would be happy to speak to him about that after the debate.
As ever, there is not enough time to respond to the points that have been made by those who have contributed to the debate. If there are specific points on which I need to get back to hon. Members, I shall do that. I give a commitment that the Government will consider what has been said, including suggestions on how we can stop illicit drugs getting into prisons. Lots of effective work has already been carried out by prison officers and prison governors. The leadership of our prisons is a major issue, and I was grateful for the comments about Holloway and Pentonville. However, leadership is not about one person; it is about the whole management team and the whole prison arena. I believe that we will be able to work together and I hope that we have many more debates such as this one.