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Prisons: Drugs

Volume 468: debated on Wednesday 28 November 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what research he has commissioned into the effectiveness of mandatory drug testing of all prisoners upon entry to custody; and what his policy is on the compatibility of such testing with human rights legislation. (168496)

Research on the overall impact and effectiveness of mandatory drug testing (MDT) in prisons has been carried out by the Office for National Statistics and Institute of Psychiatry (2005). There are two types of MDT—random and targeted (on reception, frequent programme, risk assessment and suspicion). The research concluded that random MDT provides a good measure of drug misuse in prisons over time. It also suggested that more reception MDT on entry to the prison system might be a better way of detecting and directing users into treatment.

Prisons have discretion to use reception MDT for one of two reasons—to assess the drug misuse problem (and identify need) coming in from both new receptions and prison transfers or to send out a clear message that drug misuse will not be tolerated. So far in 2007-08, 66 prisons have undertaken a degree of reception MDT. However, all local prisons undertake clinical health assessments on reception and indicative drug testing plays an important part in that process. Those declaring a drug problem at the point of their reception may be asked to provide a sample for a drug screen. The result of this clinical drug test is available immediately and is used as part of a clinical substance misuse assessment, prior to the commencement of any prescribed treatment for the management of drug misuse. Not everyone with a drug problem will test positive for drugs on reception into prison. A full clinical assessment therefore is much more effective and immediate in identifying drug treatment need than on-reception MDT.

MDT is a proportionate response to the threat posed by drugs within prisons and hence compatible with human rights legislation. The particular problems arising from misuse of drugs within prisons include disorder and violence, risks to health, and the intimidation and bullying of prisoners and their families to supply drugs. This undermines the rights and freedoms of those prisoners who wish to stay away from drugs. The National Offender Management Service has a duty of care to those held in custody. The extent of MDT undertaken within a prison must be maintained at a level proportionate to the problem experienced with drugs. Prisoners must not be subjected needlessly to drug tests. MDT is compatible with the Human Rights Act as long as it is proportionate and carried out in accordance with the policy and procedures laid down in Prison Service Order 3601. Despite some attempts by prisoners to challenge MDT at the European Court of Human Rights, none has progressed beyond the admissibility stage.