Prison `turning shoplifters into drug addicts'

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The Independent Online
Eighty per cent of the women in Styal jail are using hard drugs - mainly heroin. And virtually all of the 200 inmates in the Cheshire closed prison are taking some kind of illicit substance.

In one of his most devastating reports into a jail, Judge Stephen Tumim, Chief Inspector of Prisons says women are entering as shoplifters and leaving as drug addicts.

Fears that up to 100 of them are sharing needles to inject heroin, cocaine and crack, has prompted the judge for the first time to recommend a needle exchange scheme within the jail because of the dangers of spreading HIV and hepatitis - not just to other inmates but through them to the outside community.

He said the discovery of used needles in the jail was "common" and believed most of the drugs entering Styal were being thrown over the fence or smuggled in by prisoners who had been on home leave.

None of the 133 prisons in England and Wales have either a needle exchange scheme or provide sterilising equipment to prisoners - but following the first ever detected outbreak of HIV among inmates in Glenochil prison, Scottish jails have set up such schemes.

Yesterday the call was supported by the Association of Chief Officers of Probation, which said the proposal was "sensible and pragmatic", but said attention needed to focus on how to reduce drug abuse with the system.

The picture of almost universal drug abuse within Styal is unprecedented in a jail - although the general availability of just about every kind of substance throughout the prison system has been a concern for years.

Health care staff told the inspector that up to 90 per cent of prisoners - which include young offenders and mothers with their young babies - were using drugs during their stay in Styal. However it is not known whether any mothers are among the drug abusers.

A special appendix to the report by Dr Malcolm Faulk, the inspectorate's medical consultant, said that both staff and prisoners agreed almost all prisoners used cannabis, 80 per cent used opiates, mainly heroin, 50 per cent used cocaine or crack, 15-20 per cent used amphetamines, 10 per cent occasionally used LSD and 60 per cent used tranquillisers.

While a lot of prisoners wanted to give up their habit, it was impossible without a proper withdrawal regime and a drug free environment.

"There was no detoxification process and little rehabilitation except for a self help group promoted by health care and probation staff," says the report.

Yesterday the Prison Service said that Styal is one of the prisons where compulsory drug testing is to be introduced - probably in the summer.

Mike Goodwin, the governor who took just before Judge Tumim's unannounced visit last July, challenged the report's findings. "I don't believe this prison turns shoplifters into junkies. The evidence about drugs is mainly anecdotal."