Select Committee on Home Affairs Third Special Report



Published 22 November 1999. Government response (published as HC 271, 1999-2000) received 12 January 2000

  3.  We stand by the Committee's conclusion in its report of last session on alternatives to Prison Sentences that: "The rapidly escalating prison population makes it of paramount importance to investigate credible alternatives to custody and to use them wherever appropriate. Prison will always be necessary for the most dangerous and/or persistent criminals but it must be closely targeted on them, with other offenders being given non-custodial sentences which are effective and in which sentencers and the public have confidence" . . . But the qualification that the non-custodial options open to the courts must command confidence is most important (paragraphs 16 and 17).

  Although prisons must remain for serious, dangerous and persistent offenders, the Government has increased the range of non-custodial penalties for minor offenders: curfew orders, drug treatment and testing orders, home detention curfew and electronic monitoring.

  Non-custodial penalties must command the confidence of the public. New national standards for the supervision of offenders in the community were introduced on 1 April. The Government is also making a major investment through the Crime Reduction Programme in identifying programmes in prison and the community which do work in combating offending behaviour.

  4.  We welcome the growth of arrest referral schemes . . . we consider that there should be systematic monitoring to ensure that different schemes in different parts of the country operate reasonably consistently and to minimum standards (paragraph 20).

  Government is determined to break the drugs-crime circle. The strategy is to use each stage of the criminal justice system to identify drug misusing offenders and get them into treatment. This reduces both their criminal activity and their use of illegal drugs. An evaluation of pilot arrest referral schemes has shown an 80 per cent reduction in offending rates amongst those successfully referred into treatment.

  The Government is now aiming to extend arrest referral schemes through a joint funding initiative with the police. The Home Secretary announced in July 1999 that £20 million has been made available for the next two years to match-fund the appointment of arrest referral workers and to put resources towards the new demands on treatment services. The target is to provide coverage of arrest referral schemes for all police custody suites by April 2002. The results of the joint funding initiative suggest that we are well on course to achieving that objective.

  6.  The likely advantages of new sentences for drug-related offenders which would combine treatment in both custodial and non-custodial settings should be fully assessed (paragraph 22).

  Identifying drug misusing offenders at every stage in the criminal justice system is now a prime objective of the Government's crime reduction strategy and will make an important contribution to the overall aims of the 10 year drugs strategy. The provisions in the Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill currently before Parliament will build upon drug testing already being carried out through the Drug Treatment and Testing Order and drug testing in prison. The Bill provides for the compulsory drug testing of offenders and alleged offenders at various points in the criminal justice system. The new powers will allow for drug testing for heroin and crack/cocaine misuse:

    —  after charge with a relevant offence (acquisitive crime, robbery and Class A drug offences) at the police station with a view to informing subsequent bail decisions of a court and assisting in referrals to a drug worker;

    —  after conviction for a relevant offence, where the offender is made subject to a community sentence containing a drug testing requirement;

    —  after release from prison on license.

  In addition, courts will be given a new free-standing community sentence—the Drug Abstinence Order which will enable a Probation Officer to monitor an offender's progress with the help of drug testing. The new drug testing regime will help in identifying drug misusing offenders, referring them into treatment where appropriate and in monitoring their progress. We have already indicated that, as in the case of the Drug Treatment and Testing Order, the new drug testing arrangements will be piloted initially in three areas before decisions are taken on how and to what extent they are rolled out nationally.

  11.  We consider that a more consistent delivery in all prisons of a more coherent policy on drugs than has hitherto been the case should be a central objective for the Prison Service in implementing the new strategy, based on an analysis of best practice (paragraph 38).

  The implementation of CARATs means there is now a common basic service in all prisons. Contracts for treatment services contain standard national specifications and the programmes must achieve accreditation by 2002. The Prison Service has appointed two Treatment Advisers to help with the development of treatment programmes, to ensure consistency and to provide guidance on the accreditation process.

  12.  We have been struck by the extent to which witnesses have highlighted the need to address the alcohol abuse problems of those sent to prison. We look to the Prison Service to devote serious effort to this issue in the development of its programmes for addressing offending behaviour (paragraph 42).

  The high priority the Prison Service has attached to tackling drug misuse in recent years reflects the fact that this has been at the top of the Government's agenda. However, neither the Prison Service nor Home Office Ministers underestimate the need to tackle the problems associated with alcohol. Proposals to develop an alcohol strategy in 2001-02 will be put to the Prison Service Management Board in due course.

  13.  We conclude that drug use is more likely to flourish in prisons where, whether arising from problems of resources or of facilities or of management, prisoners are not sufficiently engaged in constructive activity. It is clear that there is still a long way to go in bringing prison activities and regimes up to desirable levels. We see it as a necessity that there are further improvements in this field (paragraph 47).

  The Government is committed to constructive regimes. Additional resources for regimes of over £200 million in 1999-2002 were provided by the comprehensive spending review. They are being targeted at regime activities which are most likely to reduce reoffending including drug treatment programmes, offending behaviour programmes and education in basic and key skills to improve employability. For the current year to end August, we are at 23.6 hours per prisoner each week in purposeful activity. The 24 hour target for the year is still attainable but prisons need to deliver up to 10 per cent more hours in the second half of the year than they have so far in the first for this to happen.

  14.  It is clear that there is a danger of a shortage of qualified drug workers in the community; any such shortage would de-rail the Prison Service anti-drug strategy or adversely impact on the national anti-drugs strategy. Appropriate steps must be taken by all relevant government agencies—which must include the Department of Health as well as the Home Office—to address this problem. The UKADC must have an overall responsibility to ensure that overall needs are assessed and that the necessary steps are taken to ensure sufficient training takes place (paragraph 51).

  The Government agrees that this problem cannot be solved by any one department alone. A new National Treatment Agency will be set up by April 2001. It will be responsible for a pooled national treatment budget, bringing together Home Office and Department of Health funds to be managed jointly. Its role will be to expand drug treatment provision and ensure the delivery of high quality services throughout the country.

  Recruitment difficulties did cause delays to programmes in some areas but CARATs and the 33 new treatment programmes are now fully operational. We should not underestimate the capability and willingness of prison staff, with training, to play a full part in the running of services.

  15.  We are in no doubt that measures to reduce further the supply of drugs must be a key element of the Prison Service drugs strategy (paragraph 56).

  Supply reduction is a major part of the current strategy. Numbers of drug dogs increased to 121 passive and 196 active. CCTV is now available in the visits areas of 118 prisons.

  16.  We recommend that [the project to map the principal routes by which prisoners acquire drugs] is completed as a matter of urgency (paragraph 56).

  Our first priority was to set up CARATs and the new rehabilitation programmes so all prisoners had access to treatment. Because these new services took longer than expected to introduce—mainly because of recruitment difficulties—the project on supply routes has also been delayed. Now expected to be completed in December. Meanwhile a number of steps have been taken to reduce the supply of drugs—more dogs, extra CCTV, more fixed and low-level furniture, visitor bans.

  17.  We are convinced that disruption of dealers' activities through the use of intelligence must be a priority for the Prison Service. We are encouraged by the establishment of the system of Police Liaison Officers and recommend its expansion to provide adequate cover for each prison. In addition, while recognising the role of the Police Advisers Section in providing intelligence to the police, we recommend that steps should be taken to ensure that more use is made of it to provide intelligence to the Prison Service on the identities and activities of drug dealers who enter prisons as inmates or visitors (paragraph 58).

  The restructuring of Security Group which is currently underway will enable more effort to be put into the central management of intelligence relating to selected individual prisoners or groups of prisoners who are considered to represent particular threats, including those involved in drug supply.

  18.  It is our view that insufficient action has been taken to date to disrupt the operations of prisoners who peddle drugs. We recommend that the Prison Service encourage governors to make wider use of their segregation units to house known drug dealers (paragraph 59).

  It has long been Prison Service policy that segregation should not be used as a punishment. Instead of segregating drug dealers routinely, the Prison Service believes it is better to approach the problem by concentrating on disrupting their activities through action taken within the wider context of supply reduction.

  A clear distinction must be drawn between prisoners who have been convicted of drug-dealing in the community and those prisoners dealing in drugs within prison. It does not automatically follow that those convicted of trafficking will continue their activities in prison.

  19.  We consider that there is insufficient evidence to justify the introduction of a blanket or random testing programme for prison staff at this time. . . We do, however, support the introduction of drug testing of staff where there are reasonable grounds for suspicion of their involvement in supplying drugs (paragraph 61).

  The Prison Service review of drug misuse policy for staff is still underway. The testing of staff for alcohol and drugs, where it is felt that performance is being impaired as a result of alcohol or substance abuse, is being considered.

  Contracts with external drug agencies for CARATs and treatment services allow for testing of their staff working in prisons. For the time being this will apply only in the High Security Prisons because of their special security requirements. Other establishments may follow if testing is introduced for prison staff generally.

  20.  We support the principle that random searching of staff should take place at all prisons, and recommend that the frequency of such searching should—in the interests of the staff themselves—be increased (paragraph 61).

  All staff are subject to random entry and exit searching. Staff in High Security Prisons must be searched on every entry. Governors should determine the frequency of searching according to the security needs of their prisons and the resources available.

  21.  [We] recommend that each prison should be provided with a well-equipped Visitors Centre where the opportunity can be taken to provide information on the legal and health risks of drug misuse and to provide support services for visitors who may be under pressure to supply drugs. We commend the Prison Service for its collaboration with Adfam in this area (paragraph 63).

  The Prison Service continues to work in partnership with the voluntary sector in the expansion of provision of visitors' centres. However, we acknowledge that there are often difficulties in terms of funding arrangements and demarcation. It is hoped that visitors' centres will benefit from the work currently being undertaken to develop a strategy for the voluntary sector. The aim is to ensure that voluntary/community sector providers are given clarity and consistency as to the standards and practices to be provided by individual establishments.

  In setting standards, the Prison Service continues to promulgate the visitors' centres good practice guidelines to establishments, as well as present and potential providers. Information and service provision will be further improved following publication and implementation of the Prison Service Charter, which will set out for visitors to prison the level and standard of service to be provided, in addition to key, relevant information on matters such as security procedures during visits.

  22.  We urge the Prison Service to continue with its programme to update visitors areas and the dissemination of best practice to minimise opportunities for drugs to be passed during visits (paragraph 64).

  The Prison Service Security Manual disseminates best practice in this area. A whole chapter is devoted to visits issues. Examples of local good practice are disseminated monthly by means of the Monthly Security Briefing.

  The service is committed to the installation of CCTV in all appropriate prison visitors areas. This is dependent on available resources. All Category A and B prisons and almost all Category C have been provided with it for some time, and a number of others are installing it.

  23.  We support the extension of the use of CCTV across the prison estate but urge the Prison Service to be aware that CCTV should be seen as only one weapon in its armoury against the import of drugs. In particular, we recommend that CCT monitors are manned at all times by officers fully trained in their use (paragraph 65).

  CCTV in visits areas has increased from 90 prisons last year to 118. Other measures include more dogs (121 passive and 196 active), more fixed and low-level furniture and visitor bans.

  24.  We recommend that the Prison Service ensures that the advice it receives on drug detection technology is fully up-to-date so that it is in a position to conduct its own trials of equipment as soon as practicable (paragraph 66).

  The Prison Service receives advice from the Police Scientific Development Branch of the Home Office. They have already conducted an evaluation of the latest available equipment and concluded that it did not meet minimum Prison Service requirements. It would therefore be premature to conduct any field trials at present. The Prison Service, in co-operation with other Government departments, is exploring the potential to commission detailed research to inform the user requirement for any detection technology.

  25.  We are convinced that passive drug dogs are a particularly effective method of preventing the import of drugs, representing excellent value for money. We therefore recommend that each prison should have its own passive drug dog, funded centrally by the Prison Service (paragraph 68).

  The Prison Service currently deploys 121 passive drug dogs. It aims to have one drug dog in each prison by the end of the current financial year.

  26.  We agree that a more flexible approach to the use of drugs dogs should be considered by the Prison Service, including their deployment on random patrol of landings at night, both as a deterrent and as an aid to the gathering of intelligence on drug use (paragraph 69).

  Although the Government shares the Committee's view, it cannot be implemented for the time being because it would have considerable cost implications, including the cost of additional staff to investigate incidents following a discovery. While prisoners are in their cells overnight, staffing is maintained at a relatively low level, and less qualified and costly staff are made use of.

  27.  We recommend that the Prison Service review how the standard of searching procedures throughout the Service might be raised. In particular, we recommend that it address as a matter of urgency the recruitment of female officers so that all prisons are able to conduct adequate searches of female visitors (paragraph 71).

  The Prison Service expects to issue guidance to Governors later this year to help them determine the appropriate staff gender mix to meet their legal and operational needs. The guidance will also cover the application of genuine occupational qualifications to certain posts where it is felt necessary that a specific gender is necessary.

  28.  We believe that training in appropriate ways of dealing with visitors should be in place for all officers working in visits, and that all staff on visits duty should wear name badges to aid the investigation of complaints (paragraph 72).

  In the interests of greater transparency and accountability, the Prison Service has recently introduced numbered epaulettes for prison officers and name badges for all other staff. Members of staff will be readily identifiable to prisoners, visitors and other colleagues.

  The Drug Strategy Unit is currently conducting a training needs analysis (TNA) linked to the delivery of the drug strategy. The TNA will explore the training needs of visits staff. Operational considerations mean that in some prisons the visits process is managed by staff on rotation rather than a dedicated team. This adds to the training requirement.

  30.  We recognise that the new controls and sanctions over those passing or receiving drugs visits are an important signal of the determination of the Prison Service to act against those who abuse the right of visits. However, we wish to see a full evaluation of their effect to be published as soon as practicable (paragraph 76).

  Headline data continue to be very encouraging. In 1999-2000, 3,144 visitors were involved in suspicious incidents, with punitive action taken against 89 per cent of them. Of those, 78 per cent received a visits ban and a further 10 per cent were the subject of a closed visit order. 23 per cent were arrested. 2,074 prisoners were made subject to closed visits and 1,086 were found guilty of drug offences at adjudication.

  Full year figures are as follows.

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