SCOTTISH prisoners should have their jail time slashed if they can prove they are drug free, according to a leading expert in tackling drug addiction.
Professor Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre for Drug Misuse Research in Glasgow, said offering a reward scheme - including reduction of sentence - could help prevent problems of drug abuse in jail.
His comments come as new figures reveal that Scottish prisoners are failing planned drug tests at a rate of more than five times a day.
Across the country last year, more than fifteen per cent of tests carried out in prisons came back positive for illegal drugs.
The stats, released under freedom of information, showed that 12,423 drug tests were taken at prisons across Scotland in 2015, and of those 1,912 tested positive for drugs.
The Scottish Prison Service does not carry out random drug testing and said in some cases the tests were carried out to see if inmates could progress to a less secure jail.
Other tests were taken as part of medical treatment programmes at the jails.
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A report last year by the Centre for Drug Misuse Research in Glasgow, found an estimated 38 per cent of prisoners in Scotland have used illegal drugs in prison.
Professor Neil McKeganey, director of the centre, said implementing “regular and exhaustive drug testing of all prisoners” could change “the entire environment of prison-based drug use”.
He told The Scotsman: “It is not a new problem, and it’s one that has been demonstrated by Scottish surveys carried out in prisons. I think the prisons should be testing all prisoners, it would play an important part in creating a zero tolerance policy towards drugs.
“It is impossible, however vigilant the prison service is, to stop drugs from getting in. They should be routinely and regularly testing prisoners and those who demonstrate they are drug free could be rewarded, for example with shorter prison sentences.
“We don’t know who many prisoners are doing drugs and rewarding prisoners, in my judgement, could be a good scheme,” he added.
CEO of Scottish Drugs Forum, David Liddell, said: “This represents 16 per cent of those tested. This in itself is not a surprise as various estimates have suggested that perhaps 40 per cent of the prison population have a drug problem.
“A significant proportion of those with a heroin problem are prescribed a substitute drug such as methadone while in prison, but people with a problem associated with other drugs, particularly stimulants, are less likely to disclose their drug use and they may try and continue to use illicit substances whilst in prison – and as we know, it is hugely challenging to stop illicit drugs entering prison.”
Tom Fox, spokesman for Scottish Prison Service, said some prisoners were tested to see if they could progress to lower security jails and others as part of “therapeutic” medical treatment.
He added: “The drugs tests are conducted for a variety of reasons. A lot of people in our care are drug users.”