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Prisons: Drugs

Volume 699: debated on Tuesday 11 March 2008

My right honourable friend the Minister of State (David Hanson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am announcing today that David Blakey CBE QPM, formerly Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, has been appointed to lead a review of the Prison Service’s measures to disrupt the supply of illicit drugs into prisons.

It is of significant concern that on average 55 per cent of people entering prison have a serious drug misuse problem, with this figure rising to 80 per cent in some instances. Many have offended to fund their need for drugs. Inevitably, their desire for illicit drugs does not simply disappear when they enter prison. As a result, the Prison Service faces major challenges in trying to respond to prisoners’ attempts to secure access to illicit drugs. The Prison Service has a range of measures in place to tackle this issue—ranging from the searching of visitors to work with the police to identify criminal networks intent on supply drugs into particular prisons.

The level of drug positives detected by the random mandatory drug testing programme in prisons has fallen by nearly two-thirds since its introduction in 1996-97 from 24.4 per cent to 8.8 per cent in 2006-07. This is thanks to a number of initiatives including the introduction of mandatory drug testing, better detox, better treatment, CCTV surveillance of visits, increased used of closed visits, more drug dogs and improved security performance on searching and intelligence.

My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Jack Straw) announced on 31 January 2008 (Official Report, Commons, 37WS) that further measures will now be considered to further develop this work. This will include reviewing the criteria for open/closed visits across the prison estate, with a particular focus on local prisons.

The review will look at introducing more rigorous searches, including the provision of more sniffer/search dogs.  Mr Blakey has been asked by the director general of the Prison Service to conduct a review of the measures in place to tackle the supply of illicit drugs into prisons. The terms of reference are:

to review the effectiveness of HM Prison Service’s measures for disrupting the supply of illicit drugs in prisons;

to make recommendations to improve the effectiveness of HM Prison Service’s measures for disrupting the supply of illicit drugs in prisons. Recommendations should take account of the legal, financial and practical limitations appertaining to HM Prison Service’s operating environment; and

to make recommendations regarding what additional measures might be possible, and at what cost, if resources were available for additional investment.

The review report will be submitted to the director-general by 31 May.