§ Mr. George Howarth
The Government are committed to tackling drug misuse in prisons. In support of the Government's wider national strategy, Tackling Drugs to Build a Better Britain, the Prison Service launched its new drug strategy on 12 May. It builds on existing drug policies and seeks to reduce the number of prisoners testing positive for drugs as a result of mandatory drugs testing. Inmates proved to be misusing drugs are normally punished with a loss of privileges, additional days added to sentence or another penalty, and injecting equipment is always confiscated when found. The Prison Service is also working to achieve our manifesto commitment to provide access to voluntary drug testing (so-called "drug-free wings") for all prisoners who request it, supported by treatment programmes to help them stay drug free.
These are other measures are achieving considerable success in reducing drug misuse in prisons. However it is known that a minority of inmates persist in injecting and in sharing injecting equipment. This behaviour poses a substantial risk in terms of the spread of HIV, hepatitis and other communicable diseases, not only to prisoners themselves but to staff who encounter contaminated needles and to the wider community. To help counter such risks, disinfecting tablets have been readily available in Scottish Prisons since 1993. They were also introduced in all prisons in England and Wales in 1995 but were withdrawn because of safety concerns. Those concerns have now been allayed following tests by the Health and Safety Executive. In the interests of public health, following consultation with the Department of Health and with the support of the Chief Medical Officer, the Prison Service will provide disinfecting tablets on a trial basis, together with a leaflet explaining how to use the tablets and providing information about hepatitis and HIV. The leaflet will warn prisoners of the dangers of injecting and outline help available to tackle their drug misuse.
The pilot scheme, which is planned to start in July 1998, will operate for three months in 11 selected prisons, and will make disinfecting tablets available to prisoners freely and anonymously. A variety of distribution methods suitable to the geography and regime of the different prisons will be trialed.588W
The pilot scheme will be evaluated by an independent academic team based at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. If successful, the initiative will be extended to all prisons in England and Wales.