Skip to main content

Prisons: Drugs

Volume 705: debated on Wednesday 19 November 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Further to the answer by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath on 10 June (HL Deb, cols. 473-75), what discussions they have had with the British Medical Association about drug dependency in prisons.

My Lords, since late 2002, officials in the Prison Service (pre-2005), the National Offender Management Service and the Department of Health have chaired regular meetings with the British Medical Association to discuss the implementation of prison doctors’ and pharmacists’ working party reports. These meetings have allowed discussion on a broad range of subjects including the management of substance misuse. I myself will be speaking at the BMA’s prison health conference on 1 December.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. I also welcome the fact that, despite the budget cuts to the Prison Service, the Government will be trebling the amount of money spent on drug programmes in the next three years. However, can he update the House on the progress of the integrated drug treatment system, which is an absolutely integral intervention in dealing with drug abuse in prisons?

My Lords, I pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate; since he became Bishop for prisons last year he has become a powerful advocate, both inside this House and outside it, for more and better drug treatment in prisons and elsewhere. The integrated drug treatment scheme, as he knows, draws together drug treatment systems which have hitherto been commissioned and delivered quite separately, involving the Department of Health, the Ministry of Justice and several regional and local organisations. So far in 2008-09 the scheme has been rolled out in 91 prisons. It is in its second year and certainly has increased funding this year. It has already been shown that it will bring considerable improvements to the quality of prison treatment, allowing treatment to be better targeted at individuals’ needs.

My Lords, the last time this subject was discussed the noble Lord’s predecessor assured the House that inmates were tested for drug use when they went into prison but not when they came out. Why are the Government continuing to try to hide the increase in drug use in prison by refusing to test prisoners when they come out?

My Lords, we are not trying to hide anything. The amount of money that the Government have spent on drug treatment in prison—ranging from £7 million when we took office to £92 million now, a 12-fold increase—should make the noble Lord consider, first, whether his Government did enough in this field and, secondly, whether what he suggests is very sensible. When people go into prison they are of course tested for drugs. A large amount of money, and the time and effort of very dedicated people, is spent trying to wean them off drugs in various ways. You cannot be sure when they leave prison—I think that this is the question which the noble Lord asked last time—whether they have finally been taken off drugs. You cannot be sure until they have been in the community for some time.

My Lords, will the Government meet the minimum staffing needs for their Titan prison programme of two whole-time equivalent general practitioners plus community psychiatric nurses, given the complex diverse health and other needs of the population that will be in those prisons and the multiple opportunities that the Titan prisons will pose for illicit drug sharing?

My Lords, I pay tribute to the staff that the noble Baroness mentions and can answer her question in the affirmative.

My Lords, would the Minister be surprised to know that during the course of my review of women in prisons I came across almost universal appreciation of the fact that drug detoxification treatment in women’s prisons has improved so dramatically under this Government from what was previously a pretty poor programme? Indeed, this treatment allows some women coming out of prison to remain drug-free. The tragedy, of course, is that so many women prisoners are drug-dependent, but at least they get good detoxification now.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. What she says is true: there has, thankfully, been some improvement; but that there is still a huge problem with men and women prisoners, and with young persons in prison, is clear. Too many people go into prison with a huge drug problem and too many still come out with one as well. This is a complicated and difficult issue, but the Government are doing their very best to deal with it. The problem was here before this Government and it will be here after this Government. If the party opposite ever regains power, it will have to deal with this problem, so its members should be quite careful what they ask.

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s acceptance of all 10 major recommendations of the Blakey review as well as their suggestions on good practice regarding different methods of entry of drugs into prisons, but why have they decided to postpone the introduction of the BOSS chair for non-invasive searching of body orifices for drugs and mobile phones? Have they done a comparative study of the effectiveness of the BOSS chair as compared with passive drugs searches by dogs?

My Lords, I am afraid that I am not in a position to answer the noble Lord’s fairly specific question but I will write to him.

My Lords, what progress has been made with the various initiatives for prisoners with alcohol dependency problems, as flagged up in the review of the national alcohol strategy in June 2007?

My Lords, we know that many prisoners have alcohol as well as drug problems. We have made it a priority to tackle the harms caused to the public by acquisitive crime that is committed to fund drug and alcohol misuse. Consequently, funding for addressing drug misuse has grown at a greater pace than that for alcohol misuse. The needs of prisoners with an alcohol problem are important. As the noble Baroness will know, the alcohol strategy for prisoners was introduced four years ago. It provides a framework for addressing prisoners’ alcohol-related problems and balances treatment and support with supply reduction, but I have to say that we have a long way to go.

My Lords, would the Minister be kind enough to answer the question that my noble friend Lord Henley asked? Why do the Government not test people on leaving prison so that they can see the effects of prison on people’s drug-taking habits?

My Lords, getting people off drugs is not something that happens just in prison. It happens in prison, but it continues when they are in the community.