Prison 'turning inmates into heroin addicts'

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DRUG use at a prison is so high that inmates who arrive there without an addiction are hooked on heroin when they leave, prisoners told the Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Inmates warned that drug problems were behind a high level of violence at Featherstone jail in Wolverhampton, forcing prisoners to carry knives to protect themselves, said Sir David Ramsbotham.

Staff and the board of visitors at the low-security prison believed "there was a considerable amount of drugs within the establishment", he said.

"Anecdotal comments to us from prisoners confirmed this and it was clear that a more effective programme for dealing with the problem was required," Sir David said in a report published yesterday.

"Many prisoners felt that people came to prisons without a drug problem, but turned to drugs to cope. They then left prison with a heroin habit and inevitably came back to prison for a drug-related crime."

Sir David said the Prison Service needed to establish the true level of drug use at the jail, and extend the current strategy of testing and treating inmates for drugs and establishing "drug free" wings for inmates who wanted to kick their habits.

Inmates told the inspection team that they could buy two "spliffs" of cannabis in exchange for one phonecard.

Mandatory urine testing for drug use had forced many inmates away from other drugs on to heroin, which only stays in the system for a couple of days, while cannabis can be detected up to a month after use.

Much of the bullying and intimidation at the jail was drug-related, Sir David said.

"Only when these issues are successfully addressed will it be possible to provide a safe environment," he went on.

But staff were failing to tackle bullying, he said. "There was a general acceptance that while bullying was unacceptable, there was virtually nothing that could be done about it."

Sir David said that overall Featherstone, which holds 600 inmates, was a "good category C establishment with good relationships between staff and prisoners".