Our prison safety and reform White Paper affirms the Government’s commitment fundamentally to reassess our wider approach to tackling the supply of and the demand for drugs in prisons. It also gives governors greater power over services in their prisons, devolving control over education and increasing influence over healthcare provision, including drug testing and rehabilitation.
I have visited many prisons in my role as rapporteur on mental health for the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and one of the most consistent and challenging problems is not only treating drug addiction but preventing new psychoactive substances from entering the prison system. Will the Minister update me on the Department’s plans to prevent NPS abuse in prisons?
Prisons have a range of searching tools available. We have trained 300 dogs to detect psychoactive substances, and we have introduced laws to prosecute those who smuggle and supply drugs.
Will my hon. Friend explain what impact legal highs are having inside prisons, and what steps are the Government taking to crack down on this very serious problem?
The use of legal highs is undeniably changing behaviour patterns among prisoners. Last night’s “Panorama” illustrated the impact of new psychoactive substances. We have developed an innovative testing programme under the current mandatory drug testing regime, and we continue to work with health partners to reduce demand.
In the light of the increasing pressures on the prison population, does my hon. Friend see any merit in the Howard League for Penal Reform’s suggestions about increasing the use of community orders—they certainly work well in Southend—and in its approach to helping offenders with drug problems?
We want community orders to be effective so that further crimes are not committed. This includes better mental health interventions and drugs and alcohol desistance interventions. I am fully aware of the fact that if we can get to grips with the mental health challenges and the substance misuse challenges, crime will go down.
If the Minister is to address the issue of drug addiction, he will have to address the issue of drugs being smuggled into prison. One method of doing that would be the introduction of new scanning machines similar to those at airports. Has the Minister given any consideration to doing that in prisons, thereby stopping drugs being smuggled by people into prison?
Yes, consideration has been given to that. There is a particular difficulty with new psychoactive substances, because the way in which they are smuggled in—for example, by the impregnation of letters or paper—means that it is difficult to stop them via scanning. The hon. Gentleman should be assured that we are desperate to get a grip on the smuggling and supply of drugs into prisons because of the adverse impact that they are having.
The hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies) has an identical question, Question 19. It was not grouped with this question, but the position is clear: if he does stand I will call him, and if he doesn’t I won’t. He does. Get in there man!
My hon. Friend, who has the same profession as me, fully understands the importance of the proper treatment of substance misuse. Having successfully got off the drug, part of that is finding purpose in life, and employment is key to that.