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Mandatory Drug Testing in Prisons: Research

30th January 1997

This report lays out the plan for Mandatory Drug Testing (MDT). The general aims of the research were to:

  • Obtain information about the misuse of drugs by the prison population and to consider changes in drug misuse in the light of the introduction of mandatory drug testing;
  • Collect views from prison staff and prisoners about the supply of drugs in the prison;
  • Discover prisoners’ and prison staff’s understanding about drug misuse and the risk of viral infection;
  • Assess the arrangements currently available for the treatment of prisoners who have a drug problem. 

Several potential problems with MDT were identified, including the following:

  • MDT will redirect effort away from treatment and to prevention and have an adverse effect on treatment regimes.
  • MDT will concentrate attention on ‘non-problem’ use of cannabis where the resources would have been better used in helping to control heroin use.
  • The test will provide an incentive to switch to the use of harder drugs.
  • Outside agencies may refuse to accept referrals from MDT  because prisoners will be forced into programmes because of positive test results.

Morag MacDonald
University of Central England in Birmingham: Centre for Research into Quality

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