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Prisons (Drug Use)

Volume 458: debated on Monday 19 March 2007

To tackle drug use in custody, the National Offender Management Service has in place a comprehensive drug strategy. The strategy's three key aims are to reduce the amount of illicit drugs getting in by using a co-ordinated range of supply-reduction measures; to reduce the demand for drugs through delivery of effective drug treatment; and to strengthen through-care links with the community, helping to ensure timely continuity of care for drug users on release. While NOMS remains committed to doing more, the drug strategy is already making significant progress, with drug use—as measured by random mandatory drug testing—down from 24.4 per cent. in 1996-97 to 10.3 per cent. in 2004-05, a reduction of 58 per cent.

I thank the Minister for that encyclopaedic answer. I am sure that he will appreciate the seriousness with which Kirkham prison in my constituency takes fighting drug and alcohol addiction by prisoners. He will be aware of the use that it has made of the counselling, advice, referral, assessment and throughcare—or CARAT—programme. The integrated drug treatment service now beckons. Kirkham wishes to adopt that because it wants to do better in countering recidivism. When can Kirkham expect that particular facility to be made available to it?

I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his involvement in all aspects of Kirkham’s work. It has a proud record in dealing with drug treatment. He will recognise the improvement that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), talked about: the increase in the drug treatment budget of 974 per cent. The right hon. Gentleman made the point about the integrated drug treatment service, which is additional funding. It is going into up to 45 of our prisons. At the moment it is mainly concerned with the first 28 days of custody, and it is more likely to be rolled out in remand prisons because that is where the biggest problem is seen to be. I take his point that we need to look at prisoners who are on release—most of the prisoners in Kirkham are shortly to be released. We will do that through the National Offender Management Service. I do not charge him personally, but the Opposition voted against the Offender Management Bill. It is important that actions from that Bill are initiated to ensure that we deal with offenders. The release of offenders with drug and other problems is an important matter. We will look at the issue that he raised. Clearly, there is an issue about people coming out of prison with a drug habit.

My constituents would like to know from the Minister why £749,000 was paid in compensation to prisoners in an out-of-court settlement, plus costs, for the messing up, of their detoxification programme. Either the Government should have resisted those claims, or we need to be told what went wrong. It is unacceptable that taxpayers' money should be squandered in that way.

It will come as no surprise to my hon. Friend that I have some sympathy with his argument, but he will have to ask the courts why they took the decision—[Interruption.] The courts were involved in what the outcome was likely to be in terms of the recommendations of the legal people. He will know that that matter relates to treatments in the 1990s. Those cases were reluctantly settled out of court because we had to minimise the cost to the taxpayer.

May I add to the Minister's three points the need to persuade young offenders in prison of the need to find alternative sources of employment that are at least as remunerative as drug dealing? What success has the Department had in ensuring that young people who leave offenders institutions have legally marketable skills?

Again, I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman raises that point and yet voted against the NOMS Bill, which enabled the voluntary sector which has expertise in reducing offending among young people. We are trying to reduce reoffending by using all the agencies available to us, whether from the public, private or voluntary sector. It is important that we get the message across to young people that reoffending leads to a life of crime. We must cut the reoffending rates and the NOMS Bill is a way to do that, so I look forward to it to receiving more support when it returns to this House.

On a recent visit to Wandsworth prison I was very taken with the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners trust—RAPt—programme. In assessing how well drug programmes work in prisons, will my hon. Friend take into account the support given by prison governors, because it seemed to me that the absolute support for that programme from the governor at Wandsworth—there was a dedicated unit and it was ensured that the programme had all that it needed—contributed greatly to its success?

Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who was at the open day at HMP Wandsworth—along with, I understand, many other Members of Parliament, who were impressed by the work of RAPt. Its chief executive is Mike Trace, who used to be the deputy drugs tsar. It offers a 20-week programme and uses a 12-step approach. The exciting news is that 850 prisoners a year stopped using drugs as a result of their engagement with RAPt. We want to encourage such programmes, so we will look with great interest at how the RAPt programme can be rolled out nationally.

The Minister will be aware that access to drugs in prison is a major problem. What assessment has he made of the Holloway scheme, whereby dogs with handlers are used to sniff out drugs among prisoners—and perhaps might even sniff out drugs being brought into prison by visitors? Does he intend to roll-out that scheme across the nation’s prisons?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that question, because she is right to highlight that there are now many ingenious ways that drugs are brought into prisons. I am grateful for the work of the Prison Officers Association, prison officers in general and prison governors, who are doing their best to stop that inflow. Tennis balls have been used to get drugs into prison; the balls are bounced over walls. We must ensure that we keep the balance right between stopping the drugs coming into prisons and also allowing visits to take place. The use of sniffer dogs is an option, but we must also look at the ways that telephone calls are monitored and visitors are inspected, to make sure that those who act unscrupulously are found out.

May I refer my hon. Friend to an article written by prisoner Peter Wayne in the current edition of “Druglink”? He has been involved for 30 years in committing petty crime to fund his drug habit. In most of the prisons that he has been in, he has been detoxified—obviously without any result. His latest visit is to Wandsworth prison, which my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) mentioned. He has been admitted to a drug-free wing where he is involved in a harm reduction programme. Does my hon. Friend agree that harm reduction programmes are more successful in prisons than detoxification?

It is important to have a mixture of all the potential solutions. We know that up to 80 per cent. of offenders have some relationship with a drug problem at some stage in their time inside or outside prison, so we are dealing with a large problem. We have increased the investment in addressing it, but we would like to widen the opportunities to be successful. We have heard about the RAPt programme in Wandsworth, and we are looking at a range of measures that the voluntary sector can bring about. In an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall last week, the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) talked about the need for us all to unite to tackle drugs in prisons. There is an opportunity for us to have a sensible debate about what are the most effective ways to stop drugs being in prisons.