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Psychoactive Substances (Prisons)

Volume 605: debated on Tuesday 26 January 2016

Quite rightly, we do not tolerate drugs in our prisons and we are bringing forward tough new measures, including the new legislation on psychoactive substances, which will make possession in a prison a criminal offence, unlike the position in the rest of the country.

I congratulate the Minister on spearheading that new legislative tool, but if the scale of harm demonstrated by a significant increase in ambulance attendances and suicides were happening in other places where there is a duty of care—hospitals, children’s homes or schools—would we not have what is needed, which is a root and branch review of how best to tackle supply and demand for drugs in prisons?

We must make sure that these drugs do not get into our prisons. Psychoactive substances and drugs have been in our prisons for some time. Following a request not only from the prisons Minister, but from prison officers as well as prisoners around the country, we made sure that possession was a criminal offence. We need measures such as new sniffer dogs, which can sniff out such products, and they are in training. We must eradicate these drugs from our prisons.

The National Offender Management Service has revealed that the amount of alcohol found in prisons in England and Wales has almost trebled since the Government took office. Will the Minister explain what urgent steps he is taking to address this serious problem?

One of the ways we can deal with that is by making sure that individual governors have full control within their prisons so that they can work with their staff to make sure that not only drugs, but alcohol, which is not supposed to be in our prisons, is not there. Much of that alcohol is brewed within the prisons and we need to work hard to make sure that we eradicate that.

We do not tolerate drugs in our prisons, but drugs use is widespread throughout every jail in this country. Is there any realistic prospect whatsoever of a drug-free prison establishment?

The Prison Service works very hard to try and make sure that we eradicate as many drugs as possible. The new legislation will help. We know that assaults on prison officers and inmates by people taking psychoactive substances have been prevalent and are a blight on our prisons. With the new legislation we will have powers that we did not have before.

There have been recent reports of prison officers falling ill after inhaling inmates’ legal highs. The Minister says that new legislation is being introduced, but how will we deal with the problem when present governors are retiring and leaving? We need a culture from the top to implement measures within the Prison Service. How will the Government effect that?

One of the ways in which we can improve the situation for prison officers is by listening to them. They categorically asked for the ban. At the moment such substances are legal, but they will be banned once the Psychoactive Substances Bill receives Royal Assent, so from April possession in prisons will be a criminal offence. That is what prisoner officers asked for, and that is what we have given them.