Rehab strategies criticised as 70% of drugs-related prisoners return to jail

MORE than two-thirds of prisoners serving time for drugs-related crimes have previously been behind bars for a similar offence in the past decade, figures show.

Parliamentary questions submitted by Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes have revealed that 70 per cent of drug-related sentences are being served by repeat offenders.

Mrs McInnes has called on the Scottish Government to improve rehabilitation in order to tackle the problem.

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She said: “Drug abuse blights families and communities throughout Scotland. We all feel the corrosive impact of this devastating problem.

“These figures make for worrying reading. It is really concerning that about 70 per cent of drug offenders in jail have been there before for a similar conviction. We need to improve rehabilitation and tackle addiction if we are to break this cycle of re-offending.”

She went on to say that it was important to make sure that offenders who wanted to change their lives had proper access to rehabilitation services while in prison.

“This, then, needs to be followed up properly in the community when they are released,” she said. “Ministers need to look at ways of building closer links between prisons, community rehabilitation services and residential treatment providers.

“Individuals must not be cast adrift as soon as soon as they step outside the prison gates.”

A Scottish Government spokesman responded by saying that it had invested “record” amounts in front-line drug treatment services to help people recover, an increase of more than 20 per cent since 2006-7.

“This investment has been focused on ensuring that treatment becomes a person-centred and sustained offer,” he said. “Our national drugs strategy, the Road to Recovery – endorsed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament – is as ambitious a drugs strategy as Scotland, and arguably the UK, has ever had to tackle the decades-old drug legacy passed on to us.

“Since 2007, we know that there have been more than 35,000 referrals to specialised drug treatment, while the success of the Heat (Health improvement, Efficiency, Access to services and Treatment) target is driving up faster access to drug treatment services, with a commitment to a maximum three week wait by 2013.

“Prior to April 2010 it was not uncommon for an individual who needed treatment to wait up to and in excess of a year – the latest figures show that more than 84 per cent of those seeking treatment begin within three weeks.”

The spokesman said it is “for clinicians, recovery experts and the individuals themselves” to best decide on treatment options “within the context of long term and sustained recovery”.

“However, the Throughcare Addiction Service already provides continuity of care for those leaving custody who wish to go on to receive addiction services in the community in Scotland. This is a national service provided by local authority criminal justice social work or one of their contracted providers, working alongside the Scottish Prison Service and other partners.”

Mrs McInnes, North-East Scotland Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP, asked: “What percentage of prisoners currently serving a sentence for drug-related offences has previously been to prison for drug-related offences?”

Justice secretary Kenny Mac-Askill replied that he had asked John Ewing, chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service, to respond.

The response was: “Analysis of the most recently available Scottish Prison Service data shows that about 70 per cent of prisoners convicted of drug-related offences have previously received custodial sentences for drug related offences during the past ten years.”