February 4, 2008
THE SCOTTISH Conservatives last night demanded the re-introduction of mandatory drug testing for prisoners in Scottish jails.
Community safety minister Fergus Ewing recently held a meeting with the Scottish Tories at which the issue of mandatory drug testing in prisons was discussed.
Approximately 40,000 tests are carried out each year by the Scottish Prison Service at a cost of £723,400.
To test all admissions into prison would cost an additional £2.3 million.
Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie is also calling on the Scottish Government to make open prisons drug-free by bringing in routine testing, with those who fail automatically returned to a closed jail.
There was a public outcry when a prisoner who escaped from Castle Huntly open prison near Dundee claimed he had absconded to avoid drug dealers.
“To me it is not unreasonable that those in an open prison should be drug free,” said Ms Goldie.
“If they are caught taking drugs, they should be returned to a closed prison.
“The prison regime must be fit for purpose and the prisoners sent to open prison must be fit for open prison.”
Ms Goldie said mandatory drug testing, phased out in the 1990s, should be re-introduced in order to create “clean” wings populated by drug-free inmates.
Those who are drug-free could receive enhanced privileges.
Miss Goldie added, “I am very clear that there is a very significant drug addiction problem in the prison population.
“I would have clean wings in prisons for those who are not on drugs. There should be a wing for those who are on drugs where they can receive proper treatment and support.
“And it would be easy to build into that privileges for the occupants of the clean wing.”
Ms Goldie cites the Swedish example, which since the 1970s has strived to create a drug-free environment.
Sweden has some 400 drug-free prison units with a capacity for 4200 prisoners. In Scotland a drug-free wing is the exception.
The Scottish Tories believe that to engage in the war against drugs a new “zero tolerance” attitude must prevail—and that must extend to our prisons.
A Scottish Government spokesman said, “The majority of prisoners entering custody have an addiction issue and the Scottish Prison Service is committed to not just tackling the introduction of drugs into prisons, but to helping offenders to adopt a lifestyle free of drugs.”
The SPS claimed that mandatory drug testing was not a deterrent.
“Evaluation of the previous policy of mandatory drug testing suggested that it was not successful as a deterrent, and may have had unintended consequences in terms of moving people off cannabis on to heroin,” said a spokesman.
More than 5000 drug tests are carried out in the open prison estate every year with 91% found to be drug free. As part of the assessment for transfer to the open estate a prisoner must have demonstrated that he is free from drug use in that the last two drug tests must have been negative.
Any prisoners found testing positive for drugs are subject to a “multi disciplinary case management review”.
In the majority of cases this will result
in the return of the individual to a closed prison. However the SPS said there are cases where it will be decided that the individual will remain in the open estate but decisions are based on the merits of each case.
Overall about one in four prisoners is returned to closed jails and a proportion of these will be for failing drug tests.
There are four kinds of drug testing in Scottish prisons.
Addiction prevalence testing takes place in two months of the year and involves testing of 5% of the total annual admissions and liberations and is mandatory. However a positive test does not of itself result in sanction.
Clinical testing takes place when a prisoner reports a history of drug use and requires medication for withdrawal management.
Prisoners are routinely tested by this method to ensure compliance with clinical prescribing.
Suspicion testing involves testing those thought to be involved in the distribution and consumption of illicit drugs. These are mandatory and a positive result or refusal to give a sample may result in a number of actions, from referral to support services to loss of privileges, return to closed conditions or referral to police.
Risk assessment tests are carried out to inform and support risk assessment and placements. This might include progression within the prison system, home leave or prison work involving equipment and machinery. The test is mandatory.