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Prisons (Illegal Drugs)

Volume 463: debated on Wednesday 25 July 2007

Positive action has already been taken by the Prison Service, and I have asked the director to review measures to reduce the supply of, and demand for, illegal drugs in prisons—[Interruption.]

Given that so many prisoners are heavily dependent on drugs when convicted, and that so many prisoners suffer from mental illness through drug use, what extra measures will the Minister introduce to encourage the rehabilitation of prisoners while they are in jail, so that they come off drugs?

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that we need to deal with not just the supply of, but the demand for, illegal drugs in prisons. I was at Hydebank Wood prison earlier this week, and I saw the work of an organisation called Opportunity Youth, which works to support, help and counsel young people there. Its results are very good, in terms of lowering recidivism rates and ensuring a worthwhile future for those young people. When the director brings his recommendations to me, I expect him to include measures that will give people support and help in dealing with their addiction problems.

In the Minister’s opinion, are the sentences handed down by the courts in Northern Ireland for drug-related offences—[Interruption.]

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In the Minister’s opinion, are the sentences a stiff enough punishment, and a great enough deterrent?

Of course, sentencing is a matter for the judiciary, rather than Ministers, but I know that the hon. Gentleman is concerned with the need to make sure that for serious offences, particularly sexual crime and drugs offences, the punishment fits the crime. I can tell him and the rest of the House that later in the year I will bring forward proposals for a reform of the sentencing framework in Northern Ireland, which will include the possibility of tougher sentences for dangerous and violent offenders.

My hon. Friend will know that it is not just in Northern Ireland that drugs coming into prisons are a problem; recently in Scotland, a solicitor was sent to jail for bringing drugs into prison. Will he ensure that there is adequate funding in Northern Ireland, not only for searches—we must make sure that they are much more sophisticated—but to ensure that the consequences for people convicted of bringing drugs into prisons are advertised, so that people know what they are up against when they do it?

Of course my hon. Friend is right: the problem of drugs in prisons, regrettable as it is, is not unique to Northern Ireland. It affects the prison system in Scotland, England and Wales, too, and it requires drug testing to take place. There are also issues of support for those with an addiction problem. I assure him that we will continue to pay attention to the subject, and to invest in it, and we will continue to learn about what works best from prisons in other jurisdictions.