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Drugs (Prisons)

Volume 478: debated on Wednesday 2 July 2008

2. When he next expects to meet the Secretary of State for Justice to discuss drug abuse in prisons in Wales. (214275)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I regularly meet ministerial colleagues and others to discuss a variety of issues, including prisons. The Prison Service drug strategy introduced in 1998 has had a positive impact on drug use in prisons. The number of positive drug tests continues to fall, while the number of successfully completed treatments continues to rise.

Why are young criminals going into Welsh prisons as mild drug users and coming out as hardened addicts who then reoffend to feed their habits? Other countries, such as the United States, Sweden and Germany, are making substantial progress in ridding their prisons of drugs. Why can we not do the same here, and why cannot Welsh and Justice Ministers get a grip and take the matter seriously?

People tend to read and listen to some of the more salacious stories of drug use in prisons. The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point, but let me emphasise again that we are actually succeeding. The bare facts are that 8.6 per cent. of mandatory drug tests yielded positive results in 2006-07 compared with 20 per cent. 10 years ago, and positive testing for use of opiates has fallen by more than 25 per cent. in the past 10 years. I realise that tabloidese headlines make cases of drug use into huge stories, but the actual trends and evidence show that the drug programmes in our prisons are working.

How can it possibly make sense to reclassify cannabis and increase the sentence for cannabis users from two years to five years when not a single prison in the country is free of the open use of heroin and cocaine? Is it not true that we will be sending cannabis users into prison to be discharged as heroin addicts?

My hon. Friend has regularly raised these issues, but I hope he will also welcome the advances that have been made. More than 7,500 drug treatment programmes were completed in prisons in England and Wales in 2006-07, which is 1,500 over target. Although I know that my hon. Friend will continue to advocate his case very forcefully, the programme that we have in place in prisons is undoubtedly proving effective.

I listened carefully to the Minister telling us the statistics on improvements, but that is not what the Prison Officers Association or the National Association of Probation Officers believe. A lifer recently asked to be taken from an open prison in Wales back into a closed prison because the temptation to go back on heroin was so great. There have been numerous similar examples in recent months of people requesting to go back into closed conditions because of the ready availability of heroin. I realise that it is a big problem, but, frankly, a bit more effort needs to be put in.

This is an important point. Constant attention, constant resourcing and focus are required to turn the situation around. The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point that we must keep up the effort and keep pushing harder. That is true, and hon. Members who have raised that point are pushing at a genuine issue, but we are going in the right direction. We will always have to do more, and when there are instances such as those the hon. Gentleman reports, we must work to address them, but we are pushing in the right direction—and, I must say, doing so for the first time in many years and after decades of underspending in prisons.

Parc prison in my constituency has effective medical and psychological support for those who are struggling to cope with their drug addiction, but does my hon. Friend agree that social support is also vital to tackling the issue—to make contact with and enable good visits from their families, and to help people to learn to play and read with their children?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that there is not a single line of attack on this issue. She is a supporter of, and a regular attender at, Her Majesty’s prison Parc, with the Parc Supporting Families group, which does excellent work. Parc prison has consistently low results in random drug testing: prisoner drug abuse levels average below 6.5 per cent. as against the target of more than 15 per cent. Therefore, I welcome the work going on, particularly within the wider ambit of support for families and for resettlement, and I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend and others in supporting that.

The Minister is painting a rosy picture. Over the past three years, despite a 30 per cent. increase in prison drug cases reported to the police, the proportion of prosecutions for drug offences in prison has dropped from 24 per cent. to 18 per cent. of all reported cases. How many drug offenders in Welsh prisons have been prosecuted over the past three years, and when will this Government truly use the legislation to clean up our prisons and end this drug culture on the inside?

Again, I say to the hon. Lady, who speaks from the Conservative Front Bench, that this is a genuine issue that we are all struggling to grasp. We want offenders who enter prison to come out having turned their habit around so that they can be resettled, and the trends are going in the right direction. I hope she will welcome the funding for drug treatment in prisons, which has doubled from £12.7 million to £24 million in 2008-09, and will further increase to £39 million in 2009-10, and to £43 million in 2010-11. Not only are the trends going in the right direction, but we are putting our money where our mouth is to make sure that that is right for prisoners.