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Prisoners: Drug Addiction

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 5th February 2013.

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Photo of Duncan Hames Duncan Hames Liberal Democrat, Chippenham 11:30 am, 5th February 2013

What recent estimate he has made of the proportion of prisoners (a) entering and (b) leaving prison with an addiction to a class A drug.

Photo of Helen Grant Helen Grant The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

A survey of 1,435 prisoners sentenced to between one month and four years in 2005 and 2006 showed that 45% of prisoners reported having taken a class A drug in the four weeks before custody. No recent estimate has been made of the proportion of prisoners leaving prison with an addiction to a class A drug.

Photo of Duncan Hames Duncan Hames Liberal Democrat, Chippenham

I thank the Minister for that reply, but may I gently suggest that it would be worth while to have more recent estimates and to address the situation of offenders as they leave prisons? Has she ruled out suspicions of collusion by any prison staff in explaining why access to drugs in prisons is so widespread?

Photo of Helen Grant Helen Grant The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

As I said, we do not have the figures on the number of prisoners leaving prison with an addiction to a class A drug, but this Government are absolutely committed to stopping drugs entering prisons and getting prisoners off drugs for good.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee

We cannot break the devastating cycle of drugs unless we deal with the issue of drugs in prisons. Why does not the Government adopt the recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee, which are simple: mandatory testing of prisoners when they enter the prisons, and mandatory testing when they come out of prisons? That will give her all the figures she needs in order to deal with this serious problem.

Photo of Helen Grant Helen Grant The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

We feel that investing in comprehensive testing may not be the best way to tackle the problem, but the Government welcome the Home Affairs Committee report, “Drugs: Breaking the Cycle”, and we will of course give careful consideration to all the findings and recommendations.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Conservative, Bognor Regis and Littlehampton

The Minister will be aware that at Ford prison in my constituency the independent monitoring board has reported that 85% of the prison population is involved in the use of spice, a synthetic cannabinoid. I am not convinced that current orthodoxies in the Prison Service to combat drugs in our prisons are working: is she?

Photo of Helen Grant Helen Grant The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

Our plans to transform rehabilitation will radically change the way that we manage offenders, and they will also provide much more effective support for offenders on release. Fewer prisoners are testing positive for drugs than at any time since 1996. However, there is still much more to do, and that will involve our working very closely with the Department of Health and others to provide the best possible recovery services.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

I am provoked by the very complacent answers that we have had. All the Government are offering is warm words on this. They say they have no recent evidence, but we all know from our own experience that not one single prison in the whole of Britain is free of illegal drugs. If the Government have no evidence of people going in as shoplifters and coming out as heroin addicts, the rest of society does have it. Should not the Government adopt a policy that is at least robust and realistic and look at the traffic between prison officers and prisoners on drugs?

Photo of Helen Grant Helen Grant The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

As I made clear, we are looking carefully at the excellent report by the Home Affairs Committee. However, we genuinely believe that our transforming rehabilitation plans will provide much better continuity of care and help to get prisoners off drugs in the long term.