Drugs (Prisons)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 31 January 2024.

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Photo of Russell Findlay Russell Findlay Conservative

1. To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to prevent drugs being smuggled into prisons. (S6O-03030)

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

The health and wellbeing of those who live and work in our prisons remains a key priority for the Scottish Government and the Scottish Prison Service.

Investment in technologies such as Rapiscan machines, which are now available in every prison, and the recent purchase of nine new body scanners, further enhance a comprehensive range of security measures that are already being deployed by the SPS. By working closely with partners such as Police Scotland, SPS must and does remain vigilant to the continuously evolving nature of drug use to ensure that the use of technology and tactical measures remains current, adaptable and capable of detecting drugs and preventing them from entering our prisons.

Photo of Russell Findlay Russell Findlay Conservative

Scotland’s prisons are under siege from gangsters who control the drugs trade, with prison officers on the front line, and I do not say that lightly. The boss of HMP Edinburgh warns that new synthetic drugs are making inmates even more violent and unpredictable. At least one officer has become ill from inhaling drugs that were being smoked by prisoners. Drones are now being used to smuggle contraband. Only seven were detected in 2022, but there were 54 in the first nine months of last year. Many prison officers feel scared and unsupported. Other than warm words and platitudes, exactly what action is the cabinet secretary taking to protect them and to tackle the drugs gangs?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I reassure Mr Findlay that the safety and security of our prison staff, who do a difficult and, at times, dangerous job, is of the utmost priority to me and this Government. Tomorrow morning, I will chair—as I do every quarter or so—the serious organised crime task force, which is about tackling the grip of organised crime in our communities as well as in our prisons, although, of course, the two are related.

Mr Findlay is right to point to the threat of synthetic drugs, particularly synthetic opioids, given their potency. A number of members, including himself and Ms Hyslop, have written about the impact of psychoactive substances on the health and welfare of staff, and I will discuss that with the chief executive when I next meet her in the not too distant future.

There needs to be a whole range of action, including continuing work to prevent contraband from coming into prisons in the first place, because that does not make prisons safer and it can often add to the violence in our prisons.

On technology, I will say briefly that the Scottish Prison Service continues to work with Police Scotland and an external provider to develop a pilot programme that is trialling covert technology that alerts establishments to drone activity in SPS airspace. That is one of the many actions that are being taken.

Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

Scotland’s national mission to improve the lives of those who are impacted by drugs is, of course, not just for people in communities but for those in prisons. With that in mind, will the cabinet secretary outline the Scottish Government’s work with partners to embed that work in prisons throughout Scotland?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

As well as disrupting the supply of illicit drugs, we need to reduce demand for those substances. It therefore remains imperative that we improve access to treatment and recovery opportunities in the community and that we ensure that there is parity of opportunity in our prison estate.

The Scottish Prison Service continues to work in partnership with vital third sector organisations and national organisations such as the Scottish Drugs Forum, Crew 2000 and the Scottish Recovery Consortium to enhance approaches to delivering consistent recovery pathways to help individuals to reintegrate into our communities. Thanks to the good work of prison officers, a full range of innovative projects are supported, such as recovery cafes, recovery walks and the work that mutual aid organisations do.