Jail reforms lead to drugs problem: Situation at Holloway 'dangerous and degrading'

HOLLOWAY prison's much-praised 'liberalisation' and innovative reforms have led to a serious drugs problem among its women inmates.

'The situation is becoming dangerous and degrading,' the jail's Board of Visitors says in its annual report.

Cell and body searches were proving ineffective at detecting and eradicating drugs - mainly cannabis but also heroin and cocaine. Even when there were strong suspicions that an inmate was intoxicated, it was proving impossible to provide evidence. 'Women who are drug free or are resisting their addiction are not being protected and feel let down by the Establishment,' the report says.

In a reference to the threat of the spread of Aids through the prison, it adds: 'The sub-culture, intimidation and the problems of shared needles must be faced and attacked.'

The report, which also criticises lack of adequate psychiatric care, insufficient funding for an adequate diet and racism, will come as a blow to the Prison Service agency. Holloway is regarded at the forefront of reform, designed to promote greater family contact and stop recidivism.

Indeed the Board of Visitors praises the changes that have made the jail a more humane place. Freda Evans, chairwoman, said: 'Holloway has made great advances over the past few years in its efforts to provide a more caring, rather than containing, service. The board would not in anyway want to see any greater restrictions imposed. The drug problems within the prison are simply a reflection of what is happening outside.'

Holloway's drug problems are not isolated. A recent report by Professor John Gunn, of the Institute of Psychiatry, found that one in 10 men and one in four women prisoners were hooked on hard drugs. More than 3,000 prisoners are convicted of drug offences.

Of those injecting before incarceration between 25 and 33 per cent are able to sustain their habit in jail.

Judge Stephen Tumim, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, has recently painted a picture of lawlessness at two men's prisons where drug abuse is rife. He, like those on the Holloway Board, accepts the downside of more home leave and a more relaxed regime is that it is easier for drugs to circulate. But he also shares their view that that the use of Draconian methods to combat abuse could create more problems of disorder than it solves.

Yesterday a spokesman for the Prison agency said it was aware of the drug problems throughout the service. Last month Mike O'Sullivan, the governor of Holloway set up a working party aimed at gradually introducing drug free zones into the prison in an attempt to eradicate it.