John Scott: Drugs would be less attractive if prisons engaged prisoners

I AM sure there have been improved measures for trying to prevent drugs coming into prisons and as someone who visits jails regularly it’s pretty clear steps have been taken to improve search processes.

We now have a situation where the security in jails is as stringent as airport security. Visitors have to remove their belts, coats and sometimes shoes before proceeding.

The work that’s done with sniffer dogs checking mail as well as family visits, which can be ways that drugs get into jails, is an example of these improvements.

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But despite this improved detection, there is probably an increased use of drugs in prisons due to this greater prevalence of illegal substances that these figures suggest exist.

The overcrowding that we have in prisons and the lack of meaningful activity for some inmates, can make drugs attractive.

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Many of those in prison are young men from poorer areas, who often had drug problems before they went to jail.

When they get into jail and find that there’s little to do, then unfortunately drugs are one option.

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If we were to cut prison numbers, as former first minister Henry McLeish suggested in his report on prisons, then there would be more scope for meaningful activity due to an improved staff and prisoner ratio.

This is something the Scottish Government and the Scottish Prison Service is aware of.

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But the increase in drug seizures is nothing to do with a so called soft-touch approach to prisons. There is no soft touch, as anyone who visits a prison and goes through the airport-style security will testify to.

There’s also no sense in which prison staff view drugs as a useful tool to distract prisoners.

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Prisons are never going to be entirely drug free, but there is still more that the government and the Scottish Prison Service can do to provide more purposeful activities for inmates in the way of education and training opportunities.

• John Scott, QC, chair of the Howard League for Penal Reform in Scotland