Prisoners will be given personal drug-taking kits under a controversial new scheme to tackle the spread of HIV and hepatitis C in British jails.
Inmates at Craiginches Prison in Aberdeen, where drug-taking among prisoners was particularly high, will be the first to receive the kits. They include syringes, swabs, filters and a sharps disposal box.
The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) has confirmed that the pilot programme was planned for early next year, after a Glasgow Caledonian University report. It concluded that prisoners regarded the drug problem in Scotland's jails as unstoppable.
Their views echoed a Home Office report last month, which confirmed that drug use was commonplace within prisons in England and Wales.
That study stated that some supposedly drug-free wings were awash with illegal drugs and depicted a world where heroin, cannabis, crack and non-prescribed medications all circulated freely.
Interviewees said that obtaining drugs was relatively straightforward. Drugs entered prisons by social visits, in the mail, through new prisoners, via contact with friends on the outside after court appearances, or in bundles thrown over the perimeter wall. They were then exchanged in prison churches, gyms, workshops, education classes, during visits and in queues.
With the continued proliferation of illicit drug-taking in prisons has come a serious infection problem, which the Craiginches pilot scheme aims to address.
The SPS said yesterday that if the behaviour of prisoners taking drugs could not be changed, the service had a responsibility both to inmates and to prison staff to ensure their safety. A decision to introduce the kits will be taken by the prison service and will not have to be approved by Scottish Executive ministers.
The SPS added that the kits would reflect needle exchange programmes that existed in the community and would be modelled on similar schemes in the Republic of Ireland, Switzerland, Germany and Spain.
The Court of Appeal in London has already dismissed a case brought by an English prisoner under human rights laws to have needle exchange programmes introduced in jails south of the border.
The SPS spokesman added: "We've looked at international research which shows that the introduction of the safe injection programmes reduces drug injecting."
Last year alone, nearly 2,000 drugs packages were intercepted on their way to Scottish prisoners. Officials claim that human rights laws allowing contact between prisoners and their families mean that the authorities can never halt the flow of drugs into jails.
Annabel Goldie, the leader of the Scottish Tories and a campaigner for more treatment centres for drug addicts, said she could understand why the move was necessary, given the alarming levels of drug abuse in Scottish jails. "But we need a radical overhaul of rehabilitation structures in our jails. We should be helping prisoners get off drugs rather than helping them take them," she said.
Investigations at prisons have illustrated the scale of the problem. Last month 14 officers at Pentonville, North London, were suspended in a corruption investigation involving the alleged smuggling of drugs into the jail.
The Home Office has given no indication that it will adopt the scheme for England and Wales if the pilot in Scotland proves successful.
A HABIT IN JAILPrison needle exchange programmes in Switzerland, Germany and Spain have reduced dramatically HIV and hepatitis transmission rates A recent study in Canada claimed that giving drug kits to prisoners did not lead to an increase in drug taking or cause needles to be used as weapons A recent Home Office study suggested heroin, cannabis and crack were freely available in English and Welsh jails A survey of 6,200 in Scottish jails showed that a third had used drugs in the previous month with 128 injecting. Seventy-eight of those had shared needles Last year nearly 2,000 drugs packages were intercepted on their way to Scottish prisoners
(c) The Times