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Drug Testing (Prisoners)

Volume 565: debated on Tuesday 2 July 2013

The right hon. Gentleman knows that we already have a system of random and intelligence-led drug testing in prisons. He knows, too, that we are not persuaded of the merits of adding further testing for all prisoners at the fixed points of arrival and departure from custody. However, we are working with the Department of Health to test an end-to-end approach to tackling addiction from custody into the community, which includes looking at which prisoners should be tested and when.

The Minister is right: I do, in fact, know all that. However, it does not deal with the problem. The problem is that 35% of those in prison have a drug addiction and 6% acquire that addiction once they are in prison, so more come out with an addiction than went in with one. Why do the Government not feel that mandatory testing on entry and exit will help break the cycle of drug dependency?

We are in agreement, because I knew all that, too, but it is worth saying to the right hon. Gentleman that we have one or two issues with the suggestion he and his Select Committee make in what is, I concede, an excellent report that makes a substantial contribution to this debate. The concerns we have are that if tests are done at a fixed point of exit, particularly from custody, the offender knows that is coming and can do things to try to mitigate the effect of the test. We think it is important to test on a random, and perhaps frequent, basis. We entirely agree with him and his Committee, however, about the importance of extending our testing to include prescription drugs as well as illegal drugs, because of the widespread abuse of those drugs, and I hope he will support the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), which will achieve exactly that.

We are very much in favour of the approach that attacks this problem in an intensive way and makes sure that prisoners understand that they need to get off drugs and stay off drugs. Drug recovery wings are extremely effective in that regard, and of course prisoners have an opportunity to move on to another wing thereafter, where they will be able to stay drug-free. That is an extremely important approach.

If the Government cannot control the taking of unlawful drugs in a prison—a completely controlled environment—what messages does the Minister think that sends out to the rest of society for reducing the drug problem?

It is important to recognise that the rate of mandatory drug testing producing a positive result has dropped considerably, from 25% or so in 1996-97 to about 7% now. So it is not that we are without success, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is no cause for complacency. We do everything possible to prevent the influx of drugs into our prisons, but that is an extremely difficult exercise. It is important to attack demand as well as supply, and to make sure that prisoners come off drugs and stay off them.

I warmly welcome last week’s announcement of a new prison to be built in north Wales. Will the Minister undertake that from the moment the new prison opens it will be 100% free of illegal drugs?

I suspect it would be unwise for me to make such a pledge, but we will make sure that in all our prisons we do everything we can to restrict the inflow of illegal drugs, by whatever means. As I said, we will also make sure that we provide the maximum effort to get prisoners off drugs and keep them that way.