Max Chambers

Coming clean whilst going straight

Coming clean whilst going straight
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Combating drug misuse in our prisons could be one of the best ways to cut reoffending. A prison sentence should, for a drug-addicted criminal with a  chaotic lifestyle, act as a form of respite – not just for the community, but also for the offender themselves. Yes - prison should be a place of punishment, but it should also be a chance to get clean.  

An effective strategy to combat drug misuse in prisons means tackling drug smuggling and supply, while ensuring that the treatment regimes give prisoners the best possible chance of getting – and staying – clean.  The previous Government failed to do either.

Our new report, Coming Clean, contends that the majority of drug-dealing within prison is highly-organised and involves the collusion of around 1,000 corrupt members of staff – around seven prison officers per prison. They are able to smuggle drugs due to lax security arrangements and, given the inflated value of drugs in prison, are able to make substantial profits without fear of detection. We advocate a ten-fold increase in the budget of the Corruption Prevention Unit (to £5 million), to allow the Unit to establish dedicated investigation teams inside prisons across the country to root out and prosecute corrupt prison officers.

We also conclude that drug treatment policies aimed at getting prisoners off drugs have been too readily influenced by the threat of litigation, with prisoners complaining that short detoxification programmes amount to inhuman and degrading treatment. This has led to a dramatic increase in the use of opiate substitutes such as methadone. We conservatively estimate that one in six prisoners at any one time are receiving daily doses of methadone (or buprenoprhine). This is far too high, and we argue for a rebalancing of drug treatment programmes so that only those who pose a real risk of dying from overdose on release (i.e. those on very short sentences) are maintained, while those in prison for longer are given a real chance of getting off drugs and rebuilding their lives.

The changes we advocate will require a degree of honesty about what has gone wrong and some courage in taking the necessary steps to put things right. The change of Government is an ideal opportunity to start this process.

If the Prison Service and the Department of Health come clean, prisoners could start to get clean, ending the invidious cycle of addiction and acquisitive crime - and making Britain a safer place.

Max Chambers is a Research Fellow in Policy Exchange’s Crime and Justice Unit.