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Prisoners (Drug Addiction)

Volume 516: debated on Tuesday 19 October 2010

6. What estimate he has made of the number of prisoners in England and Wales addicted to class A drugs. (17816)

We estimate that on average, 55% of all people entering prison have a serious drug problem, but we are unable to give a robust and precise estimate of the number of prisoners who are addicted to class A drugs. A recent study reviewed 1,457 newly sentenced prisoners from 49 prisons. It showed that 62% of prisoners reported some drug use, and 41% of the sample reported heroin, cocaine powder or crack cocaine use during the four-week period prior to the study.

The Secretary of State will know that more than 60,000 prisoners received methadone or another drug intervention in our prisons last year alone. Almost 24,000 of them received a regular methadone prescription. Does he agree that that state-induced dependency must end?

I was compelled by my hon. Friend’s first question and I had not thought that there was more to come. As he said, we must move away from the overuse of drugs and methadone maintenance, and aim at detoxification and returning people to a condition in which they might stay out of prison. Methadone maintenance is sometimes necessary when dealing with people who are seriously addicted when they enter prison. If people are serving a very short-term sentence, there is not much more we can do than maintain them on methadone.

However, the Ministry of Justice is looking, with my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary, to see what can be done in the context of his health reforms to deal more constructively with the huge problem of drugs offenders and crime. As I said, more than half the people whom we admit to prison are believed to have a serious drug problem when they arrive, and some who enter drug-free become addicted while there.

Some of us believe that decisions on drug treatment, including in prison, should be taken by doctors, not by politicians. Which Government agency will take the lead on drug treatment in prison under this Government?

I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a close interest in drug treatment in his constituency, where he has an excellent record on the subject. Responsibility for such treatment in prisons has been transferred to the NHS. I agree with his proposition that clinical judgments must lie at the heart of any drug treatment programme, but it is necessary for Departments to collaborate. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and I hope to produce a combined framework on treatment in prison and treatment for convicted drug users in alternative residential accommodation. That might include the transfer of prisoners in suitable cases to community-based mental health care. All those things must be tried, because the current situation is quite appalling. However, in the end, treatment of an individual must be a clinical decision. It is certainly not a decision for politicians.