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Prisoners (Drugs Rehabilitation)

Volume 460: debated on Wednesday 23 May 2007

4. If he will make a statement on the drugs rehabilitation strategy for prisoners in Northern Ireland. (137958)

The Northern Ireland Prison Service recently concluded a wide-ranging consultation on its substance misuse policy. Voluntary organisations currently provide counselling and rehabilitation courses in each of its establishments. A full-time addiction services manager takes up post on 1 June.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. However, will he kindly explain what is so exceptional about the drugs rehabilitation of prisoners that responsibility for it alone was not transferred properly and on time in April to the Health, Social Services and Public Safety Department?

Discussions continue between the Department and the Prison Service about the detail of the new arrangements. It is important that the health service in prisons is run by health experts; I am committed to that. The hon. Lady points to the fact that three voluntary organisations provide community addiction services in the three prisons in Northern Ireland. They do so effectively, and I know that she has a particular interest in the Northlands project, which provides an excellent service. I am looking at possible ways to expand such services, to the benefit of prisoners who as a result can come out of prison free of their addiction.

I thank the Secretary of State for his earlier words of congratulation. Many prisoners who enter prisons in Northern Ireland—some 10 per cent.—have amphetamine- based addictions, so rehabilitation work is clearly necessary, and we should enhance that. However, is it not the case that many drug prevention groups that work outside prisons trying to prevent young people from becoming addicted to drugs in the first place are operating on a shoestring budget? Ascert, in my constituency, is doing good work, but it cannot get funding. Do we not need to address the root cause of this problem by supporting groups that are trying to prevent it from happening in the first place?

I strongly agree with the right hon. Gentleman that prevention is always better than cure. A range of organisations throughout Northern Ireland are trying to prevent people from becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol in the first place. It is essential that when prisoners leave prison and go back into the community they receive the effective support that such groups offer.