Reform groups hit out at No10 prison drug strategy

Ministers have pledged a “zero tolerance” approach to drugs in prisons in England and Wales, provoking a backlash from prison reform groups who say the measures will not tackle the root causes of the problem.

The government, previewing the contents of a white paper released on Tuesday, said prisons would be given drug-testing targets and the results published in league tables. They added that new prisons would be equipped with high-quality scanners to stem the flow of narcotics into jails.

The announcement came a day after the government released its 10-year drugs strategy, focused on tackling “County Lines” dealing networks, curbing middle-class drug use and improving funding for treatment and rehabilitation services.

Justice secretary Dominic Raab said the measures would improve prison security and allow “effective rehabilitation” to take place.

“This is how we will cut the crime and keep the public safe,” he said.

However, prison reform groups attacked the announcement arguing that it aimed to manage the problems of the rising prison population, rather than focusing on alternatives to incarceration.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said league tables and performance targets risked providing a distraction from the “fundamental issues”.

“There is nothing in the white paper to suggest that in 10 years’ time we won’t still have an overcrowded prison system, with 200-year-old prisons still attracting inspection reports that in any other public service would lead to closure,” Dawson said.

The government has proposed a series of measures, including curbing early-release provisions and the introduction of longer sentences for many offences, which are expected to push up the number of inmates in England and Wales.

Official data on Friday showed 79,643 prisoners were incarcerated in England and Wales, only just short of the system’s 81,128 “usable operational capacity”.

Prison reform groups are sceptical that longer prison sentences are an effective deterrent to most crime.

The government has long sought to stem the flow of illegal drugs into prisons, which have been identified in inspection reports as hampering efforts to rehabilitate prisoners.

Andrea Coomber, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, a criminal justice pressure group, said successive governments had tried to tackle the “scourge of drugs” through tougher security measures.

She said the root cause of the drug problem lay in “overcrowded prisons where people were not given purposeful work and education”.

Coomber added that if the government was committed to “massively increasing” the prison estate, then “the reality was that the problem of drugs would grow, and the resources required to address it would grow as well”.

Referring to previously-announced plans to expand prison capacity, Raab said the government was building extra space so that serious offenders would be incarcerated for longer.

“Our plan will improve the security of our jails to help cut off the flow of drugs, knives and mobile phones, and allow effective rehabilitation to take place,” he said.

“The regime in prison will be reoriented to end addiction and build up skills, and access to work — so offenders go straight into work on release.”


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