Scotland’s prisons ‘awash’ with synthetic drugs, report finds

Tackling the growing drug problem should be a “priority” for the Scottish Prison Service (SPS), a report recommends, after it was found rising levels of violence were linked to prisons being “awash” with synthetic drugs.
Scotland's prisons are 'awash' with drugs. Picture:  Michael Cooper/PA WireScotland's prisons are 'awash' with drugs. Picture:  Michael Cooper/PA Wire
Scotland's prisons are 'awash' with drugs. Picture: Michael Cooper/PA Wire

Members of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) visited five prisons in Scotland - Barlinnie, Cornton Vale, Edinburgh, Grampian and Shotts - as well as police custody facilities.

Their report states: “The CPT noted the gradual rise of inter-prisoner and inmate-on-staff violence (notably in Edinburgh Prison), which was officially attributed to a combination of the increase in use of Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS), mental health issues and organised crime.”

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Prisoners told the European delegation it is “easy” to obtain drugs in prison, with synthetic drugs soaked into letters and smoked upon receipt.

The report continues: “The CPT considers that tackling the increasing drugs problem should indeed be a main priority for the SPS, as the increasing flow of NPS into prisons has a huge influence on daily life in prison...”

The vast majority of prisoners told the visitors they were treated correctly by prison officers and made no allegations of deliberate ill-treatment.

However, the CPT criticised overcrowding, use of segregation and raised “serious concerns” over the treatment of female prisoners in segregation at Cornton Vale.

The visitors found “women who clearly were in need of urgent care and treatment in a psychiatric facility, and should not have been in a prison environment, let alone segregated for extended periods in solitary confinement” including one who had repeatedly set fire to her hair, another who had bitten herself so badly bone was exposed.

While male prisoners in this situation can be transferred to a high security psychiatric facility, there is no equivalent for women in Scotland.

The committee found prison facilities in Scotland were not suitably equipped and staffed to deal with these vulnerable women - some of whom had been returned to prison after being sectioned having been found to have “personality disorders” rather than psychiatric illnesses.

The report also criticised lengthy periods in segregation for men with some locked in their cells for 23 or 24 hours a day.

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Despite positive relations between inmates and staff in the separation and reintegration units, with efforts to reintegrate, the delegation found many were segregated for months and in some cases years, with the longest at the time of the October 2018 visit being almost four years.

The report states many of these prisoners became “institutionalised” into living in “virtual solitary confinement”.

In three of the five prisons visited, overcrowding and staffing led to “many prisoners being locked-up in their cell for extended periods of the day”, particularly remand prisoners, for whom the situation had deteriorated since the previous visit in 2012. 
The report highlighted overcrowding, particularly at Barlinnie and Grampian - where there was a temporary tripling up of cells with inmates sleeping on mattresses under bunkbeds.