Inmates stymie jail drug testing

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The Independent Online
OFFICIAL FIGURES for drug abuse in prisons could be distorted by inmates' efforts to subvert the mandatory tests, MPs said. Prisoners were swallowing denture cleaner, cough sweets and shampoo to hide evidence of substance abuse in tests.

The report by the Home Affairs Select Committee said inmates were also profiting by selling "clean" urine to drug-using cell mates to fix test results.

They also tried to smuggle clean urine into tests by using artificial penises or by persuading another prisoner to urinate on a shirt which could then be wrung out into the test container.

Official results for the drug- testing programme suggest that the number of inmates testing positive has fallen from 25 per cent in 1997 to 18 per cent this year.

Evidence from the Prison Officers' Association said that substances used by inmates to mask test results included Steradent, Strepsils and Pantene shampoo. Another method of disguise was "flushing", drinking a lot of water to dilute any sample or using prescription drugs to obscure traces of illegal substances.

The timing of "random" testing could also influence results, because there was less testing at weekends. Given that hard drugs stay in the system for only a short time, inmates could "use heroin with impunity" on Friday nights, the report said. In their report the MPs called for the introduction at every prison of dogs trained to detect drugs on inmates and visitors.

People trying to smuggle in drugs had been known to abort a prison visit after seeing a dog on duty, said the report.

Dogs should also be used to patrol prison landings at night to detect inmates smoking drugs. The cost of training the dogs by the Prison Service would be about pounds 3,500 and represented "excellent value for money", said the MPs.