Prisons keeping inmates dependent on drugs, says new report

Almost 30,000 prisoners are being kept dependent on drugs by the prison service rather than being put through detox programmes, according to a new report.

Methadone, along with similar drugs, is being prescribed too easily thanks to risk-averse clinical guidelines and inexperienced prescribers, concludes the Policy Exchange report, to be released on Monday.

“Perversely, the massive increase in opiate substitute medication has created a new kind of trade for drugs in prisons, as methadone and buprenorphine are readily traded among inmates,” said Max Chambers, author of the report, Coming Clean, Combating Drug Misuse in Prisons.
The report criticises clinical guidelines for not taking into account the length of sentence a prisoner is serving when prescribing treatment for drug addiction.

“Maintenance treatment, which is when a stable dose is prescribed often continued indefinitely, should only be given to prisoners serving 13 weeks or less and who don’t have time to complete a detoxification programme,” said Chamber. 
Under current practices, however, every prisoner who has been receiving methadone in the community will have their drug habit maintained in prison, regardless of the length of their sentence.

Almost 20,000 maintenance prescriptions were made in 2008 to 2009. By 2011, when the Integrated Drug Treatment System is rolled out to all prisons in England and Wales, an additional 8,788 prisoners a year will be receiving methadone maintenance treatment.

The report also cites research showing that around £100m of drugs are smuggled into prisons each year. The majority of drug-dealing in prison involves the collusion of about 1,000 corrupt members of staff – equating to seven prison officers per prison. “They are able to smuggle drugs due to lax security arrangements and, given the inflated value of drugs in prison, are able to make substantial profits without fear of detection,” said Chambers. “A prison officer bringing a gram of heroin into prison every week – about the size of two paracetamol tablets – could expect to more than double his basic salary.”

Chambers cites evidence that accusations of corruption by prison officers are not routinely investigated by the Serious Organised Crime Agency or the Prison Service. “Information on the number of officers accused, charged, prosecuted or convicted of smuggling drugsor other contraband is apparently not collected at all by central government,” he said.

The report reveals that the number of prisoners using drugs is hugely underestimated. Mandatory drug testing figures indicate 7.7% of prisoners are using drugs but in a survey of prisoners conducted for the new report, the figure was found to be 35%, with 16% using drugs at least once a week – equivalent to about 14,000 prisoners.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of probation union Napo, said officers who smuggled drugs into jail routinely avoided detection. “It’s a serious problem but the government doesn’t keep statistics on how many staff are caught, which is extraordinary,” he said. Fletcher said there were more than 6,000 prison officers convicted of disciplinary offences over the past four years, with 19 of them currently serving sentences. “Because there is no data on the extent of the problem we can’t devise solutions,” he said.

Source: 28th May 2010

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