Prisons offering drugs to inmates

PRISONERS in Scotland’s jails are being offered a heroin substitute to wean themselves back on to drugs shortly before they are released into the community, The Scotsman can reveal.

Inmates with a history of drug addiction prior to their sentences are being offered methadone in jail if they tell prison doctors they are likely to return to heroin use as soon as they are released.

The Scottish Prison Service has introduced the controversial pilot scheme, called the Retox Programme, to help to prevent the growing number of released prisoners overdosing on heroin while on parole.

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Outraged MSPs claimed yesterday that the highly unorthodox move effectively means the Scottish Executive has run up the white flag in their battle to rehabilitate Scotland’s drug-using prisoners.

It is understood that the scheme, which has been in existence for the past three months, has been introduced in every Scottish prison and is tailored to suit the needs of individual prisoners.

A spokeswoman for the SPS confirmed that the programme was still in its infancy, but was a radical step in the right direction.

She said: "There are issues surrounding prisoners overdosing when they are released, so in certain circumstances we are offering them a Retox Programme where they can take methadone if they are likely to re-abuse when their sentence is up.

"The programme is not specific to any particular prisons. In order for a prisoner to be allowed on to the programme the individual’s circumstances must be thoroughly assessed and if deemed appropriate the retox programme can be offered to them before they leave jail."

She added: "This is still a relatively new programme and it is still in its infancy so we can’t measure its success for a while.

"What we do know is that 85 per cent of people received in Scottish prisons test positive for drugs, and prisoners are continuing to overdose when they are released.

"We realise that combating drugs is a very difficult thing to do and we have to take a radical and realistic approach to this issue."

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Under the scheme, prisoners thought likely to take drugs upon their release are assessed by psychologists and drug counsellors. If it is determined that there is a strong possibility they will return to drugs, the inmates are offered a place on the retox programme.

Lord James Douglas Hamilton, Tory justice spokesman, expressed his disbelief at the decision, claiming the programme was sending out the completely wrong message.

He said: "The message we give is hardline and we firmly believe that drug users, whether prisoners or not, should be weaned off their addiction with all possible speed. Jim Wallace appears to have hoisted the white flag here instead of giving a strong and unequivocal message to potential drug addicts which should be simply ‘don’t take drugs.’

"There has been a prolonged debate on this, but this the wrong emphasis. The Scottish Prison Service should be taking a much tougher line and adopting our own policy of zero tolerance."

He added: "Jim Wallace should be concentrating on rehabilitation rather than giving in to drug addiction. We’ve always said that hard drugs destroy communities, disrupt lives and cause widespread misery and sorrow within families. "Weaning drug users who have ended up in jail because of their addiction only means the problem will come back to haunt us again and again."

Roseanna Cunningham, SNP Justice spokeswoman, also condemned the move. She said: "This is an astonishing development and it has a huge element of defeatism attached to it. When it comes to drugs we shouldn't allow ourselves to be defeated on any level. I find it incredibly difficult to imagine that the public would find this appropriate. There is certainly a problem when prisoners with drug problems are released back into society, and overdoses are a serious issue.

"But instead of issuing prisoners with drugs, surely our resources should be going into follow-up care so that when inmates are released they are not abandoned.

"This seems to be an admission that the existing rehabilitation programmes within our prisons just aren’t working."

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But Scotland Against Drugs spokesman Alistair Ramsay said the system, although controversial, should be given a fair chance. He said: "I’m sure the public will react very badly to this, but it’s got to be seen as part of the bigger picture.

"The dilemma the prison service has is that people leaving prison often overdose and die because they have lost their tolerance to their drug of choice.

"We are entering a period in Scotland where we will need to be innovative when grappling with the reality that drugs bring to our communities."

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