Why Not Have Drug-Free Prisons?

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A damning report from leading ‘neoliberal’ think tank the Centre for Policy Studies takes the UK government to task for being more interested in managing the problem of illicit drug use in prisons than in eradicating it. The problem, according to the report, is that no one in authority understands the prison drugs market.

According to the 37-page report, serious political will that is currently lacking will be necessary to eradicate drugs from prison. The report, called Inside Out: How to get drugs out of prison, is published on Monday 9 June by the Centre for Policy Studies. Written by Huseyin Djemil, former Drug Strategy Co-ordinator for the seven London Prisons, the report claims that:

  • Illicit drug use is currently rife in prisons
  • The Government’s approach is reactive and over-dependent on flawed Mandatory Drugs Tests
  • Political will and an intelligence-based approach will be necessary if drugs are to be eliminated from prisons

Here’s a longer summary from the Centre for Policy Studies press release announcing the report:

Drugs are widespread in British prisons, undermining any attempt to clean up prisoners from pre-existing addictions, greatly increasing the chances of recidivism and corrupting staff, writes Huseyin Djemil, a former Drug Strategy Co-ordinator for the seven London Prisons and himself a former heroin and crack cocaine addict.

Djemil shows how, in terms of both treatment and containing supply, the Government appears to be more interested in managing the problem than in eradicating it. Hence treatment is focused not on stopping addiction but on prescribing substitute drugs (such as methadone). Similarly, interrupting supply is focussed on trying to keep up with the drugs trail through prison, rather than by eliminating the drugs market completely.

This reactive approach is inadequate. The Government — which has yet to publish the Blakey Review on drugs in prison — has committed more resources in an attempt to stop the supply of drugs into prison. And yet today there are probably more drugs in prison than ever before.

Mandatory Drugs Tests (MDTs) — a key part of the Government’s strategy — are both unreliable and potentially dangerous. The Government claims that they have helped reduce drug use in prison from 24.4% of prisoners in 1996/97 to 8.8% in 2006/07. Huseyin demonstrates how MDTs should not be considered as reliable indicators of drug use in prison — and how they encourage the use of Class A drugs over cannabis (traces of the latter stay in the body for longer than traces of the former).

The problem is that no one in authority understands the prison drugs market. At the moment no one knows how many people are using drugs in prison; no one knows what drugs they use and how often; no one knows how the drugs get into prison; no one knows how they are stored and sold.

Prisons hardly exchange information with each other on the prison drugs market; and the Prison Service hardly speaks to external agencies about drugs in prisons (HMPS is, for example, not implementing the National Intelligence Model, an approach designed to help law enforcement agencies share information); responsibility for stemming the supply of drugs into prison is confused between various levels of management.

Djemil proposes a new pre-emptive intelligence-led approach, one which would start from the premise that all illicit drugs should be eliminated from prisons; establish the ability for prisons to share information on the supply of drugs throughout the system; enable prisons to work with the rest of the law enforcement community to develop intelligence systems that mirror those of their law enforcement counterparts.

 
The full report is available for download.

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