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Prison Drug Strategy "substitutes gadgets for good practice"

4th May 2006

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has today rubbished the Government's new prison drug strategy, calling it a "gadget"-based response that ignores international best practice, and an "opportunity missed" to effectively address the serious issue of drug use in prisons.

"Once again the Government has missed an opportunity to address the issue of drugs in prison in a serious manner," said IPRT Executive Director, Rick Lines. "Minister McDowell's drug strategy seems almost wilfully ignorant of everything we've learned about effective and evidence-based responses to drugs in prison over the past ten years. It's a publicity-driven policy that substitutes gadgets for good practice, and fails to pragmatically address the serious public health concerns raised by drug use in prisons."

Among the specific concerns raised by the IPRT:

  • The failure of Minister McDowell's strategy to follow the comprehensive and multi-faceted approach to drugs set out in the Government's own National Drugs Strategy
  • The failure to learn from and implement evidence-based best practice models from other jurisdictions
  • The decision to implement discredited Mandatory Drug Testing policies [Last year, the Scottish Prison Service announced it was cancelling its Mandatory Drug testing programme after ten years of failure.]
  • The failure to guarantee immediate access to drug treatment for prisoners who request it, even those who test positive as a result of Mandatory Drug Testing
  • The failure to enhance or improve access to methadone.  Prisoners will still be unable to initiate methadone treatment in prisons.
  • The refusal to provide HIV and Hepatitis C prevention measures in prisons, such as syringe exchange.  This in a context where over 25% of prisoners are infected with Hepatitis C , and Irish prisons have some of the highest levels of injecting drug use in Western Europe.
  • The failure to provide alternatives to prison for non-violent drug offenders, or those engaged in petty crime to support drug habits.
  • The criminalisation of prisoners' families as the source of the drug problem in prisons.

"The National Drug Strategy adopts a multi-faceted and comprehensive approach to dealing with drug use in Ireland.  Minister McDowell has obvioulsy decided that he knows better than the Government's own drug experts, and jettisoned the Government's own well-considerd approach to drugs," said Mr. Lines. "The results we see bear no resemblance to accepted good practice. Disturbingly, neither 'health' nor 'best practice' are terms found in the policy's statement of principles, which clearly shows it to be starting from a fundamentally flawed perspective."

"The Government's so-called 'heroin-free prisons' policy is little more than a justification for its own negligence, and its refusal to address drug use in prisons in a sensible or pragmatic manner.  Yesterday's announcement is yet further evidence of this Government's willingness to play politics with a serious public health concern."

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