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Prisons: Drugs

Volume 702: debated on Tuesday 10 June 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What percentage of people coming into the prison system are drug-dependent; and what percentage are drug-dependent when they leave.

My Lords, on average 55 per cent of people come into prison with a serious drug problem. Drug misuse in prison, as measured by random mandatory drug tests, has, however, dropped by 63 per cent since 1997. Drug misuse is a chronic relapsing condition that can take many years to address successfully. The time spent in prison often represents only a small part of the treatment process, so there are no measures in place to determine levels of drug dependency for prison leavers.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer, although it is rather disappointing. Given that drug dependency lies at the root of so much crime and so much reoffending, is he aware of the constant transfer of prisoners within the system undermining the effective treatment of prisoners? Will he undertake to consult the prison doctors in the British Medical Association on how to co-ordinate the better treatment of prisoners in prison with the treatment of prisoners on release back into the community?

My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate. I understand the concern about prison transfers. When the prison population is under pressure, there is concern about the impact that it can have on drug treatment programmes. Clearly, the Prison Service does all it can to ensure that that does not happen, but the integration of services and the collaboration between the health service, the Prison Service and through care services is very important indeed. As far as the BMA is concerned, I am ever eager to talk to that organisation.

My Lords, the noble Lord can tell us how many people are drug dependent when they go into prison, but he is not prepared to tell us how many are drug dependent when they come out of prison. Is not the obvious implication of that that the Government do not want to know and do not care about this issue?

My Lords, the answer to that is no and no. As I have already said, the average length of stay in prison is about nine months. But to determine that someone is completely free of drugs when there has been chronic dependency cannot be done in that time. The mandatory drug testing regime shows that over the past 10 years there has been a big reduction in the amount of drugs taken by prisoners, which shows some measure of the success of the programmes.

My Lords, I should declare an interest as the chair of the National Treatment Agency for substance misuse and I have just come straight from a prison where I was looking at substance misuse in prison. Does my noble friend agree that treatment services outside prison in the community have improved dramatically in the past few years due to the hard work of professionals and that in prisons, with the integrated treatment services that are now in place, those services can be expected to improve dramatically? Key to all this is the resettlement of prisoners outside prison. In other words, we need through-care and after-care to be successful.

Yes, my Lords, and I pay tribute to my noble friend and to the NTA. There is no doubt that it is very important that the kinds of programmes that have been developed are developed in parallel in prisons, which is happening in a number of prisons. We expect to see expansion of that in the future. Through care and proper integration between prison drug treatment services and care after the person leaves prison are critical.

My Lords, are the problems in prisons not inevitable when both the Government and some senior police officers appear to have an ambivalent attitude to drugs on our streets? Do the Government not consider that it is now time for much longer and much more severe sentences for drug barons and pedlars in a dedicated secure prison where they cannot influence supply and corrupt other inmates?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right to draw attention to the dreadful harm that the pedlars of drugs can cause to individuals and to our society as a whole. I certainly agree that the case for vigorous sentencing is very clear. There is no ambivalence from the Government in relation to their attitudes towards drugs. We have made it consistently clear that these drugs are illegal and should not be taken.

My Lords, following on from what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said about the reluctance of the Government to share statistics, perhaps I may be helpful and give some statistics to the Minister. Drugs worth £100 million are estimated to be traded from prison cells and SOCA estimates that up to 30 high profile prisoners run their empires from behind bars. We know that the Government have commissioned a report from David Blakey, which apparently was given to Phil Wheatley, the director-general of the Prison Service, last month. When will the Minister agree to share the contents of that report with the rest of us so that we can see the true scale of the problem?

My Lords, there is no hard evidence behind the £100 million on which there has been speculation. Because it is an attempt to quantify illicit dealing, it is very hard to come to an accurate figure. My understanding is that research undertaken in 2001 estimated that the sum was up to £24 million. This House should not ignore the major efforts made by the Prison Service to improve security. Ministers received Mr Blakey’s report about three weeks ago. Understandably, we wish to consider it before we make known our recommendations in due course.

My Lords, of the 55 per cent who are drug dependent when they enter prison, how many are in prison because of drug-related offences?

My Lords, that is not as easy to answer as the noble Lord might think, but my understanding is that on 30 April 2008, the prison population in England and Wales included 10,817 offenders serving sentences for drug offences and a further 1,947 remanded in custody for such offences. There is of course a wider relationship between drug use and crime, but those are the figures I have.