Chris Marshall: Prisons help on drink and drug habits

Treatment for addiction should be one of the top priorities for the prison system. Picture: Sean Bell
Treatment for addiction should be one of the top priorities for the prison system. Picture: Sean Bell
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WHEN inspectors visited Greenock prison recently, they found a jail with relatively few violent incidents, where inmates and staff had a mutual respect for one another.

But in a largely favourable report published last week, there lay a damning statistic: around a fifth of the inmates were on a waiting list for help with drug or alcohol addiction.

David Strang, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, said the jail “lacked an overall strategy” in dealing with addiction – a fault which lies not with the Scottish Prison Service, but NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, which took over addiction treatment services at the site last year.

The damning part is not that there are large numbers of inmates with drug and alcohol dependency issues, but that there is any sort of wait to begin treatment.

Given the amount of offending which can be directly linked to drug and/or alcohol abuse, treatment for addiction should be one of the top priorities for the prison system. There is much to show this is the case, but there is clearly much work yet to be done.

The previous chief inspector of prisons, Brigadier Hugh Monro, warned in 2010 that an “unacceptably high” amount of drugs were being smuggled into Scotland’s jails. He said 17.5 per cent of prisoners tested positive for drugs when they were released.

And figures released last year showed nearly 2,000 instances of illegal substances being seized from inmates in 2012, a ten-year high.

An average of five prisoners every day were caught with illegal drugs in 2012 – a 14 per cent rise on the 2011 figures, and a jump of 89 per cent since 2002.

Despite the problems, they are reaching out for help – the fact that there were around 40 inmates at Greenock seeking support for their addiction is a positive sign.

It is in no-one’s interest that these prisoners are let down. Those released from prison with drug and alcohol problems are more likely to reoffend and end up back behind bars.

Studies have shown that offenders who enter treatment quickly and who stay the course are more likely to break the cycle.

However, prison-based programmes work best when they are followed up after the inmate is released back into the community.

Hopefully the problems at Greenock prison are short-lived – the inspection report noted the waiting list was a relatively new phenomenon.

But they cannot be allowed to continue unchecked. Along with making sure our prisons are free of illegal drugs, we must ensure that prisoners are given our full support in kicking the habit.