Scotland – an illustration of the debacle of “Harm Reduction”
KATE FOSTER HOME AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT
SCOTTISH jails will give heroin injection kits to prisoners under a hugely controversial plan to combat the spread of deadly diseases, it emerged last night. Hundreds of inmates will be handed clean syringes and swabs on a ‘no questions asked’ basis as a result of the scheme, which was condemned last night as the ultimate surrender in the war on drugs.
Prison health managers openly admit the drugs problem is so rife they have no alternative but to help inmates take highly addictive Class A drugs safely, even if that means turning a blind eye to rampant law-breaking within jail.
The admission last night prompted widespread anger and disbelief from politicians and health professionals.
The scale of the drugs problem in Scotland’s crumbling prison system is enormous. It is estimated that 80% of convicted criminals entering prison are on drugs, 40% of whom use heroin. One in 10 Scottish prisoners receives methadone.
Dr Andrew Fraser, head of healthcare for the Scottish Prison Service (SPS), fears an epidemic of Hepatitis C, and other dangerous diseases, will sweep through jails and beyond unless urgent safety measures are taken.
Fraser told Scotland on Sunday: “We will look at some of the leading-edge things like needle exchanges. Prisoners are not meant to have drugs, to be buying, selling or sharing them. But we are very worried about Hepatitis C and we know people are catching Hepatitis C in prison.
“We have yet to work out all the practicalities. We are meeting with experts from other countries [this] week to look at how they get around the issue of handing syringes out, and also what to put in the kits.
“But we have got to acknowledge that drugs come into prisons. The clean needles would be given out by health workers, and other prison staff would have to respect that they have a job to do.
“They are not breaking the law by giving prisoners syringes. Just because a prisoner has one of these packages it does not mean they are also in possession of drugs.” The kits might contain all the paraphernalia used in the process of injecting drugs, including a syringe, swabs, filters, foil or even spoons, and a sharps disposal box. The move, which is at the discretion of the SPS and does not need to be approved by ministers, would not require a change in the law. However, it would require a change in prison rules.
Possession of drugs is a criminal offence and there would have to be an agreement in each prison that health workers had a job to do and other jail staff would not interfere.
Fraser said other steps being considered under the £10m [10 million Pound] health plan included prescribing heroin to prisoners as well as increasing the amount of methadone handed out.
Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Annabel Goldie reacted with shock to the policy, saying: “The public will find it a ludicrous situation that those sent to jail for committing crimes and taking drugs are helped to take more drugs when they get there.”
Maxie Richards, a drugs expert who runs an abstinence-based rehabilitation programme in Glasgow, said: “Prisons should be drug-free, and that means closed visits if need be. But prison staff are so lackadaisical because drugs keep prisoners quiet.”
She added: “The Scottish Executive’s harm-reduction strategy has been a complete disaster.
“We are living with the mess caused by harm reduction. If it had worked we would not have had this explosion in drug deaths and drug crime. It speaks for itself. It is quite disgraceful that we have allowed it to get to this point.”
Professor Neil McKeganey, of the Centre for Drug Misuse at the University of Glasgow, said last night: “Drugs are in danger of overwhelming our prison system and it is in no way geared up to anticipate that.
“The prison system is in danger of becoming a holding bay for our addict population and that is not what it was originally intended to be.
“I think the needle exchange would be a worry because of the potential the needles could be used as weapons. It would have to be incredibly tightly controlled.” Derek Turner, spokesman for the Scottish Prison Officers Association said he was concerned about the plan.
“These needles could be used as weapons against members of staff and that is a concern, so anything like this would have to be very carefully controlled. We would want to know in advance what precautions were in place.
“However, we recognise that we have to protect public health because if prisoners become infected with hepatitis or HIV that can be taken out of the prison into the wider public.” But Alistair Ramsay, director of Scotland Against Drugs, said prisons had to do something to deal with the problem.
“Obviously no one wants [drugs] to be there and it is really quite amazing to the public that it happens at all. But it is happening, and consequently the authorities have got to find some way of dealing with it.”
SNP justice spokesman Kenny MacAskill said: “We have to live in the real world and address this problem. If we need to use schemes such as this, so be it.” The move would be the first of its kind in the UK.
A spokesman for the Scottish Executive said last night: “It’s not for us to get involved in what is an operational matter for the SPS.”
A BBC Scotland documentary last week illustrated the extent of drug-taking behind bars. Filmed in HMP Edinburgh, it showed CCTV footage of visitors smuggling in drugs.
Source:SCOTLAND ON SUNDAY Sun 17 Oct 2004