FMQs: Nicola Sturgeon will give ‘serious consideration’ to changing prison rules on storing drugs

Nicola Sturgeon has promised “due and serious consideration” will be given to whether prisons should have to store drug-soaked mail for inmates before returning it to them on their release.

The First Minister made the commitment just days after her Justice Secretary Keith Brown announced that prisoners could be given photocopies of letters in a bid to stop them getting papers which have been soaked in illegal substances.

At the time, Mr Brown conceded that prison officers are being forced to hand back drugs taken from prisoners when they leave custody, which could be soaked into mail.

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Speaking at First Ministers’ Questions yesterday, Scottish Conservatives leader Ross said under standard operating procedures, prison officers were bound to return property belonging to prisoners – even if their items contain drugs.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross quizzed Nicola Sturgeon over drugs deaths during First Minster's Questions.

He said: “Prisoners have the option to have items contaminated with drugs safely stored and returned to them on their release. Prison officers are telling us that they're having to hand drugs back to the prisoners as they leave.

"Will the First Minister commit to ending this practice immediately?”

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Scottish inmates to be allowed mobile phones in prison

Mr Ross also called on the First Minister to commit to removing “unhackable phones” given to prisoners, which have subsequently been hacked and used for drugs deals.

The First Minister said Scotland had a "significant challenge” when it came to drugs deaths and called for parties to “come together across the chamber” to tackle the issue.

"We have a particular challenge in our prisons and I think all of us understand the different factors that are at play there,” she said.

"And so I would hope that across this chamber, we could come together to welcome the ways in which we are seeking to change past practice to recognise where perhaps we should have done things differently in the past and do them differently in the future. I hope that there is an appetite to build consensus on this.”

She added: “In the spirit of openness, I will certainly look at that.

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"It is the case that prisoners have rights. Often these rights are upheld in courts of law and we have to consider these things carefully in making sure that we address these things properly.

"I accept his sincerity on this issue without doubt or equivocation. But it is too easy for all of us, across the chamber, to oversimplify some of these issues and quoting ministers, forgetting to understand the nuances of this.

"The factors behind the drugs crisis are complex and I think we all understand that.

"The particular issue he's raised there, I will go in and look at that in detail and if we consider there is a change that is necessary and appropriate and possible to make there, then I undertake that we will give that due and serious consideration.”

Ms Sturgeon said the mobile phones issue was being treated “with urgency” and that “robust monitoring” had found “a small minority” of around 7 per cent of handsets had been tampered with.

The phones were handed out during the pandemic to 7,600 inmates, costing £2.7 million, to allow prisoners’ families to keep in contact with them when visiting was restricted due to Covid regulations.

She said: “The provision of mobile phones in the absence, during particularly the early stages of the pandemic, of in person contact with loved ones over a sustained period of time has been vital in addressing the negative impact of Covid in our prisons, not just for prisoners, but also for staff and families – children in particular – impacted by the imprisonment of parents.”

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