Written Answers. - Drugs in Prisons.

Ivor Callely

Ceist:

424 Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the level of illegal drugs consumed by prisoners while in custody; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26563/01]

It is extremely difficult to quantify the level of illegal drugs consumed by prisoners while in custody, particularly given the secretive nature of illicit drug taking. An exploratory study on drug use among prisoners, which was part funded by my Department, was published recently by the Health Research Board. This study, which focused on the Mountjoy Prison complex, found that once imprisoned, those who continued to engage in illicit drug use greatly reduced the quantity of drugs they used, and the frequency with which they used them, when compared to their drug use in the community. The study also found that initiation into drug use in the prison setting was rare.

The Prisons Service is resolutely committed to tackling drug abuse in a comprehensive way and has my full support in this. This involves a twin track approach of supply and demand reduction.
A number of technical and policy measures have been introduced in recent years to curtail the smuggling into and use of illegal drugs in the prison system. These include sophisticated video surveillance, improved visiting and searching facilities, including facilities for strip searching prisoners, increased vigilance by staff and urine testing. Where visitors are found attempting to supply drugs to inmates, the Garda is called to the prison with a view to prosecuting the persons concerned. A number of prosecutions in this area take place every year and persons have served prison sentences in this respect.
Efforts to eliminate the supply of drugs coming into our prisons are not enough on their own. The Prisons Service will continue to seek to reduce demand for drugs within the prison system by the education, treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicted offenders.
I would like to instance a number of the initiatives I have instigated to combat the drug addiction problem among the prison population. For example all committals to Mountjoy, Cloverhill Remand Prison and St. Patrick's who misuse drugs are offered a detoxification programme of up to 21 days duration; all committals to Cloverhill Remand Prison who are involved in a drug maintenance programme in the community prior to committal are allowed continue their programmes while in custody there – this maintenance programme option was extended to Mountjoy Prison in October 2000 with all new committals and prisoners transferring from Cloverhill Remand Prison who were on approved treatment programmes continuing to receive this while in the prison; on-going addiction counselling and education programmes are in place in all the closed prisons in this jurisdiction; community based agencies visit prisons to provide support services and information, including individual counselling as required; an information forum is provided by the Education and Welfare Services to prisoners throughout the prisons estate informing them of the risks posed by communicable diseases; a detoxification and drug free unit is in operation in Mountjoy and an intensive drug free therapy programme co-ordinated by the probation and welfare service and delivered by a multi-disciplinary team is in place; a second drug treatment programme began at the health care unit in Mountjoy in March 2000 – this offers a detoxification and intensive therapeutic counselling over 12 weeks to prisoners nearing release with a view to returning them drug free onto a structured drug treatment programme in the community; a new drug free wing in St. Patrick's Institution with a capacity for 76 inmates was officially opened by me on 22 November 2000.
An initial group of 24 staff underwent developmental training to assist them in working with the new regime. This development has proven to be hugely successful with the wing currently operating to full capacity.
An action plan on drug misuse and drug treatment in the prison system was approved by me in 1999. It advocated a broad general approach to raise the level of treatment for drug addicted offenders. This included the expansion of detoxification facilities, more drug free areas and the provision of methadone maintenance. The provision of addiction counselling support services was central to this recommended approach which built on a medical policy which had been agreed between my Department and the then Eastern Health Board in this area. It sought to provide the same access to treatment for prisoners as patients have within the community.
At my request the director general of the Prisons Service then established a national steering group for prison based drug treatment services with a view to implementing the action plan. The steering group comprises representatives from this Department, the Eastern Regional Health Authority, senior Prisons Service management, probation and welfare service, prisons psychology service and the prison education service. The group submitted its first report to me in July 2000, and the report was circulated to various organisations for views and feedback. This report recommended the following three pronged strategy: the appointment of a drug treatment co-ordinator for the Dublin prisons; recruitment of drug treatment specialists in the counselling, psychological and medical fields; a training programme led by an assistant governor to enhance and further professionalise prison officers involved in interpersonal work with drug treatment prisoners.
The implementation of the recommendations contained in the report was approved, in principle, by the Government on 18 October 2000 on the basis that the precise staffing and other expenditure related proposals would be the subject of direct negotiations between the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Health and Children and Finance as well as the Prisons Service and health boards. A series of meetings have been held since November 2000 between the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Department of Health and Children and the Prisons Service and health boards.
As a result of these discussions, the recruitment process for the two key central positions identified in the steering group's report, that of the co-ordinator of drug treatment services – prisons – and the assistant governor in charge of training, is now at an advanced stage. I understand that these posts will be filled shortly. Following consultation with the Department of Finance, the Prisons Service and the health boards are now in a position to commence the recruitment process for the other drug treatment posts recommended in the steering group's first report.
Finally, building on all these plans and initiatives, I have given a policy direction to the Prison Service to have an officially designated drug free wing in place in every institution under its control by summer 2004.