Select Committee on Home Affairs Second Special Report


SECOND SPECIAL REPORT

GOVERNMENT REPLY TO THE FIFTH REPORT FROM THE HOME AFFAIRS COMMITTEE, SESSION 1998-99:

DRUGS AND PRISONS

The Home Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Special Report:

  We have received the following responses from the Home Office to the conclusions and recommendations of our Fifth Report, Session 1998-99, on Drugs and Prisons[8].

Reasons for the inquiry

  1.  The Committee will wish to include the monitoring of the implementation and effectiveness of the new prisons drug strategy in its work during the remainder of this Parliament (paragraph 5).

  The Government welcomes the Committee's ongoing interest in this issue.

Reducing the use of drugs in society as a whole

  2.  There is a very significant bond between use of drugs and crime, in particular where the use is of hard drugs or is at levels such as create dependency. It is clear to us that a successful attack on drug use would greatly reduce crime levels (paragraph 15).

  The key aims of the Government's drugs strategy are to reduce the use of all drugs substantially, and to break the link between drugs and crime. A target has been set to reduce the proportion of young people using the drugs which cause greatest harm (heroin and cocaine) by 50 per cent by 2008 and by 25 per cent by 2005. Alongside this an identical target has been set to reduce access to drugs by stifling their availability in the community.

  3.  We stand by the Committee's conclusion in its report of last session on Alternatives to Prison Sentences that: "The rapidly escalating prison population makes it of paramount importance to investigate credible alternatives to custody and to use them wherever appropriate. Prison will always be necessary for the most dangerous and/or persistent criminals but it must be closely targeted on them, with other offenders being given non-custodial sentences which are effective and in which sentencers and the public have confidence". . . But the qualification that the non-custodial options open to the courts must command confidence is most important (paragraphs 16 and 17).

  The Government's response to the report on Alternatives to Prison Sentences made clear its view that prison is the right response for serious, dangerous and persistent offenders, but that effective non-custodial penalties must be available to the courts to deal with more minor offenders. New community orders have been introduced. For example, curfew orders are now available nationally and the drug treatment and testing order, which is being piloted, allows drug offenders to be treated and tested in the community. Also, short-term prisoners are eligible to spend the last part of their custodial sentences in the community on home detention curfew, subject to a risk assessment.

  The Government agrees that non-custodial penalties must command confidence. To this end we have been doing a great deal of work, in conjunction with Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Probation and the Association of Chief Officers of Probation, to improve the performance of the probation service in enforcing community sentences. There has been an audit of enforcement and individual probation services are working on action plans to improve the position, which the Government—and the service—recognises is wholly unacceptable. New National Standards for the Supervision of Offenders in the Community, which will take effect on 1 April, will tighten the requirements in respect of enforcement of community sentences, and the Government is considering further measures in this area for inclusion in the Crime and Public Protection Bill to be introduced later this Session.

  The Government is also making a major investment, through the Crime Reduction Programme, in pilot projects to identify those programmes, both in prison and in the community, which actually do work in combating offending behaviour. Drug misuse will be included in this work.

  New provisions to be introduced will allow greater numbers of offenders in the community to be monitored by electronic means, which will lead to better enforcement.

  4.  We welcome the growth of arrest referral schemes . . . we consider that there should be systematic monitoring to ensure that different schemes in different parts of the country operate reasonably consistently and to minimum standards (paragraph 20).

  The Government agrees that there should be systematic monitoring of arrest referral arrangements. The guidance we have issued on arrest referral stresses the importance of monitoring and evaluation to measure effectiveness. The provision of additional central government funding announced recently to establish and sustain arrest referral arrangements is subject to schemes meeting key requirements as set out in the guidance and that information will be provided to facilitate the monitoring of schemes.

  5.  It is still too soon to judge whether Drug Treatment and Testing Orders are proving as useful to sentencers as hoped. In any event, it will not be possible to assess their effectiveness in bringing about lasting changes in behaviour amongst those receiving them for several years (paragraph 21).

  While the pilots and their evaluation are not yet complete, the interim evaluation report (Home Office Research Findings No. 106) provides valuable evidence of their success, even at this early stage. Sentencers in the pilot areas were positive about the new order. It must be recognised that short-term gains are valuable. There is no magic bullet: there will always be those who drop out of treatment during the order and others that relapse after the order has been completed. The evidence from the pilots is that even if a typical offender on a DTTO stays away from drugs and crime for only six months, he or she will have spent well over £9,000 less on drugs and committed over 500 fewer offences.

  6.  The likely advantages of new sentences for drug-related offenders which would combine treatment in both custodial and non-custodial settings should be fully assessed (paragraph 22).

  For offenders generally, the Government wants to see an effective range of sentences available to the courts and welcomes all contributions to debate in this area. As indicated in the response to the report on Alternatives to Prison Sentences, the Government is exploring the possibility of new sentences combining a suspended sentence with a community penalty, to deal with particular types of offender.

  More specifically, we are considering introducing a new Drug Testing Order for those offenders at risk of misusing drugs while serving community sentences.

  7.  Time spent by drug-abusers in prison presents a key opportunity to address drug-abusing behaviour (paragraph 24).

  The Government agrees with the Committee's conclusion, though it must be noted that there is less scope for effective interventions for those prisoners serving short custodial sentences.

Problems created by drug use within prison

  8.  We agree that the culture of drug dealing (and thus the drug use, which gives rise to it) is a major problem within prison life. It is thus quite right that great efforts are made to eradicate it (paragraph 28).

  The key to eradicating drugs in prison is the combination of effective security to tackle the supply of drugs and effective treatment to reduce the demand. The current drug strategy is based on this twin-pronged approach.

  9.  We have no firm grounds for believing that drug use is tolerated, and we accept that any such tolerance by individual officers at local level would not be in accordance with management policy. Furthermore, we too would reject the notion that there should be any such general tolerance (paragraph 30).

  The Government shares the Committee's view.

The overall strategy

  10.  Obviously no wide-ranging policy of this nature is going to receive universal support in all its aspects from all commentators, and we have noted a number of concerns in various areas from witnesses to the inquiry. But we think it is appropriate to record that the new strategy as a whole, and its setting within the national anti-drugs strategy, has received warm support from a wide range of experts and observers. We endorse this general view. The new strategy takes forward in a positive and considered way the initiatives developed in earlier years and it provides a platform for progress towards making a period of imprisonment an opportunity for reducing offenders' involvement with drugs (paragraph 36).

  The Government welcomes the Committee's view.

Delivery of a coherent approach to drug abuse

  11.  We consider that a more consistent delivery in all prisons of a more coherent policy on drugs than has hitherto been the case should be a central objective for the Prison Service in implementing the new strategy, based on an analysis of best practice (paragraph 38).

  The Government agrees. A fundamental factor within the Prison Service's drug strategy is that good drug treatment and security must be available across the Prison Service not just in individual prisons. Specific contributory factors put in place to achieve this are area drug co-ordinator posts; national specifications for treatment services; the national procurement process for the provision of these services; targets for the Prison Service; and a central Headquarters policy team.

Context: mental health problems and alcohol abuse

  12.  We have been struck by the extent to which witnesses have highlighted the need to address the alcohol abuse problems of those sent to prison. We look to the Prison Service to devote serious effort to this issue in the development of its programmes for addressing offending behaviour (paragraph 42).

  The Government agrees that alcohol misuse is a major factor for many offenders. We remain committed to the creation of an alcohol strategy to parallel the drug strategy.

Context: the state of the prisons

  13.  We conclude that drug use is more likely to flourish in prisons where, whether arising from problems of resources or of facilities or of management, prisoners are not sufficiently engaged in constructive activity. It is clear that there is still a long way to go in bringing prison activities and regimes up to desirable levels. We see it as a necessity that there are further improvements in this field (paragraph 47).

  The Government agrees with the Committee's conclusions. The development of positive regimes in all prisons is a priority task for the Prison Service.

Context: the demands made on drug treatment agencies and providers

  14.  It is clear that there is a danger of a shortage of qualified drug workers in the community; any such shortage would de-rail the Prison Service anti-drug strategy or adversely impact on the national anti-drugs strategy. Appropriate steps must be taken by all relevant government agencies—which must include the Department of Health as well as the Home Office—to address this problem. The UKADC must have an overall responsibility to ensure that overall needs are assessed and that the necessary steps are taken to ensure sufficient training takes place (paragraph 51).

  The Government shares the Committee's views and welcomes the recognition that this problem cannot be solved by any one department alone.

Methods and rate of entry of drugs into prisons

  15.  We are in no doubt that measures to reduce further the supply of drugs must be a key element of the Prison Service drugs strategy (paragraph 56).

  The Government shares the Committee's view. Supply reduction is a key component of the current drug strategy.

  16.  We recommend that [the project to map the principal routes by which prisoners acquire drugs] is completed as a matter of urgency (paragraph 56).

  The Government notes the Committee's view but considers that the most pressing issue is the creation of treatment provision across the prison estate. A number of steps to reduce the supply of drugs into prison are being taken—more dogs, extra CCTV, more fixed and low-level furniture, visitor bans—and the project on supply routes is due for completion summer 2000.

  17.  We are convinced that disruption of dealers' activities through the use of intelligence must be a priority for the Prison Service. We are encouraged by the establishment of the system of Police Liaison Officers and recommend its expansion to provide adequate cover for each prison. In addition, while recognising the role of the Police Advisers Section in providing intelligence to the police, we recommend that steps should be taken to ensure that more use is made of it to provide intelligence to the Prison Service on the identities and activities of drug dealers who enter prisons as inmates or visitors (paragraph 58).

  The Government agrees with the importance which the report attaches to the work undertaken by the Police Liaison Officers but believes that their role of providing intelligence to the Prison Service about drug dealers who enter prisons as inmates or visitors should not be confused with the function of the Police Advisers Section.

  The duties of the Police Adviser include advising on the collection and use of criminal intelligence and, where necessary, acting as a link between the Prison Service and police forces in arranging for the transmission of criminal intelligence. The day to day exchange of intelligence between the two Services is managed by the Police Liaison Officer for the prison and the appropriate Head of Security. Although the post of Police Liaison Officer (PLO) has existed at some prisons for many years, the Memorandum of Understanding (signed in 1997) placed a commitment on the police service to provide the details of a PLO to each prison. It also provided a nationally agreed job description which emphasises the primary role of "seeking criminal intelligence from all sources" and that this is for "the mutual benefit of both organisations". Attendance at a national training course, jointly managed by the National Crime Faculty and Prison Training Services and run under the direction of the Police Advisers Section, is an obligatory requirement for all Police Liaison Officers under the provisions of the MoU. Following the signing of the MoU, 140 police officers have been trained and accredited as PLOs. 82 of these officers are currently employed as PLOs to service the 137 prison establishments. Every prison in England and Wales now has a nominated and accredited PLO, although in several force areas the officers cover more than one prison establishment. Chief Officers are aware of the views expressed by HMIC and which are endorsed by the Chairman of the ACPO Crime Committee, but the responsibility for the allocation of resources rests with individual Chief Officers. ACPO Crime Committee have been particularly active and supportive of the Police Advisers Section in pursuing the appointment of PLOs.

  A joint protocol between ACPO and the Prison Service to address "drugs in prisons" is in the final stages of preparation. Emphasis is placed on the two-way flow of information and the role of the PLO as the conduit between the two services, together with examples of best practice. The protocol specifically addresses the need for the police service to ensure that intelligence and information on the identities and activities not only of drug dealers, but also all drug users who enter prison, is made available to Prison Service colleagues.

  18.  It is our view that insufficient action has been taken to date to disrupt the operations of prisoners who peddle drugs. We recommend that the Prison Service encourage governors to make wider use of their segregation units to house known drug dealers (paragraph 59).

  The Government will give this recommendation further consideration, but within the context of the long standing policy that segregation must not be used as a punishment and the introduction of the Human Rights Act. It may be counter-productive if the actions of governors are overturned through successful legal challenge.

  Governors may legitimately segregate prisoners suspected of drug dealing, pending an internal or external investigation. They may also continue the segregation (on the authority of a member of the Board of Visitors) pending transfer to another establishment, for example.

  Difficulties may arise if segregation is used to segregate drug dealers routinely:

  In progressing this recommendation, we suggest the emphasis should be on disrupting the drug dealers' activities through a range of options available to governors (including criminal charges), but within the context of the wider initiatives to reduce supply.

  19.  We consider that there is insufficient evidence to justify the introduction of a blanket or random testing programme for prison staff at this time . . . . We do, however, support the introduction of drug testing of staff where there are reasonable grounds for suspicion of their involvement in supplying drugs (Paragraph 61).

  The Government notes the Committee's conclusions and will take these into account in the Prison Service review of drug misuse policy for staff which is currently underway. Within this, random testing for drug abuse will be considered in the context of its wider beneficial impact on the security of establishments rather than its impact on the use of drugs by prisoners.

  20.  We support the principle that random searching of staff should take place at all prisons, and recommend that the frequency of such searching should—in the interests of the staff themselves—be increased (paragraph 61).

  The Government welcomes the Committee's endorsement of random searching of staff, but does not consider that it would be appropriate to set central minimum quotas or to require governors to do more than they do now. Staff at prisons are subject to random entry and exit searching and in accordance with a recommendation of the 1995 Woodcock Report all staff entering Category A prisons must receive a search on every entry. The security and resource issues vary between prisons and from time to time and the Government considers that it should be for governors to decide frequency on the basis of the security needs of their prisons and the resources available.

Measures to improve security

  21.  [We] recommend that each prison should be provided with a well-equipped Visitors Centre where the opportunity can be taken to provide information on the legal and health risks of drug misuse and to provide support services for visitors who may be under pressure to supply drugs. We commend the Prison Service for its collaboration with Adfam in this area (paragraph 63).

  The Prison Service Code of Operating Standards, published in 1994, includes the provision of a suitably equipped Visitor's Centre as one of the national standards which all prisons should aim to meet over time. These Centres exist to meet the needs of adults and children visiting friends or family in prison. They aim to offer a safe, pleasant environment where visitors are provided with the facilities they need and offered information and support, as well as the opportunity to discuss in confidence the difficulties that they may face.

  Following a centrally-managed drive to increase the number of Centres, budgetary control was devolved to Governors in 1994. A survey in 1997 indicated that a rising number of prisons were meeting this standard, with 81 of the then 133 establishments providing a centre. A further survey is to be carried out shortly. It is also a requirement that all new prison building programmes include a Visitors' Centre.

  The Government welcomes the Committee's conclusion on the Prison Service's work with Adfam.

  22.  We urge the Prison Service to continue with its programme to update visits areas and the dissemination of best practice to minimise opportunities for drugs to be passed during visits (paragraph 64).

  The Statement of Policy on visits clearly indicates that the conditions in which visits take place, and the treatment of visitors, are no less important than the number and length of visits. It recommends that visiting areas should be kept clean and brightly decorated. A large number of improvements in visiting arrangements have taken place in recent years including the refurbishment of visits rooms and the introduction of children's play areas. A comprehensive review of visiting arrangements is in progress, which will identify and promulgate best practice in visits procedures.

  23.  We support the extension of the use of CCTV across the prison estate but urge the Prison Service to be aware that CCTV should be seen as only one weapon in its armoury against the import of drugs. In particular, we recommend that CCTV monitors are manned at all times by officers fully trained in their use (paragraph 65).

  The Government shares the Committee's conclusion.

  24.  We recommend that the Prison Service ensures that the advice it receives on drug detection technology is fully up-to-date so that it is in a position to conduct its own trials of equipment as soon as practicable (paragraph 66).

  The Government shares the Committee's conclusion. The Prison Service receives advice on this issue from the Police Scientific Development Branch, which has worldwide contacts in this area.

  25.  We are convinced that passive drug dogs are a particularly effective method of preventing the import of drugs, representing excellent value for money. We therefore recommend that each prison should have its own passive drug dog, funded centrally by the Prison Service (paragraph 68).

  The Government accepts the Committee's recommendation and as a result the Prison Service will aim to fund at least one passive drug dog in each prison from 2000-01 onwards.

  26.  We agree that a more flexible approach to the use of drugs dogs should be considered by the Prison Service, including their deployment on random patrol of landings at night, both as a deterrent and as an aid to the gathering of intelligence on drug use (paragraph 69).

  The Government shares the Committee's view, the Prison Service will consider this issue further.

  27.  We recommend that the Prison Service review how the standard of searching procedures throughout the Service might be raised. In particular, we recommend that it address as a matter of urgency the recruitment of female officers so that all prisons are able to conduct adequate searches of female visitors (paragraph 71).

  The Government agrees with this recommendation. The Prison Service is engaged in a review of searching to establish precisely what is being sought in a range of searches of people and items entering and leaving prisons, with a view to confirming the most effective combination of equipment and procedures to meet clearly defined objectives.

  The Prison Service is currently developing guidance for prison governors which will provide a framework for establishments to determine their appropriate staff gender mix to meet legal and operational needs, which includes searching duties, and to help them recruit staff of the appropriate gender where there is a shortfall. This includes guidance on applying a genuine occupational qualification to certain posts where it is necessary for a member of staff to be of a specific gender.

  28.  We believe that training in appropriate ways of dealing with visitors should be in place for all officers working in visits, and that all staff on visits duty should wear name badges to aid the investigation of complaints (paragraph 72).

  The Government is considering the options for the identification of prison staff by visitors and prisoners, in part to aid investigation of complaints. Name badges and numbers on epaulettes are options being considered.

  Part of the training for prospective Prison Officers focuses on the various categories of visits, for example, domestic, legal, and others, such as interviews with the police. This training mainly instructs on security aspects, entitlements and allowances. However, it also stresses the importance the Prison Service places on good visiting practice and its implications in the smooth running of prisons. The visits review will examine the scope for further dedicated "customer care" training.

  29.  While we believe that random strip searching and the strip searching of all prisoners who are suspected drug users should be encouraged for its deterrent value, we do not support the strip searching of all prisoners following visits as a blanket policy (paragraph 73).

  The Government agrees that a blanket policy of strip searching all prisoners in all prisons after visits would not be justified. However it considers that such a policy is appropriate for some types of prisoner, and that governors should have the discretion to impose a blanket policy on all prisoners in an establishment if they consider that security so requires. The search for drugs is not the only or even the main reason for strip searching. Prisoners must be prevented from bringing into prisons a range of escape equipment, weapons and other prohibited items which could threaten security or good order, and many of these can only be found by strip searching.

  The only prisoners who are required now to be strip searched routinely after visits are Category A prisoners and prisoners on the escape list, who together represent less than 2 per cent of prisoners. Category A prisoners are highly dangerous, and every precaution must be taken to prevent them escaping. Many of them, in common with escape list prisoners, pose a serious risk of escape. Routine strip searching is an essential part of the range of security measures aimed at preventing such prisoners obtaining escape equipment or weapons through visits.

  Other prisoners are required to be strip searched only at random. However there are prisons which choose to subject all prisoners to routine strip searching after visits. These are likely to be either high security prisons, where the governor may be guarding against the risk that Category A prisoners will coerce other prisoners into obtaining or smuggling items, or prisons with a serious drug problem.

New controls and sanctions

  30.  We recognise that the new controls and sanctions over those passing or receiving drugs during visits are an important signal of the determination of the Prison Service to act against those who abuse the right of visits. However, we wish to see a full evaluation of their effect to be published as soon as practicable (paragraph 76).

  The Government shares the Committee's view. The analysis for the first three months operation of the new policy was sent to the Committee on 21 October 1999 by Martin Narey.


8   HC (1998-99) 363 Back


 
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