Letter: Prisons make heroin addicts

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The Independent Online
Sir: I am a prison inmate, and have served 25 months of a four- year sentence. Recent press reports on drug use in prison, and the introduction of drug testing, have highlighted a problem that should be made known.

It is true that there is a great deal of drug use within prisons, but it is the result of a far bigger problem. Boredom. I am on the prison's "standard regime", and spend an average of 20 hours a day locked alone in my cell with nothing to do but read or listen to the radio. Some inmates who do not have prison jobs or training spend even longer in their cells. For some, drugs are seen as a way to relieve that boredom. Most realise the damage they are doing to themselves, most would like to do something about it, but the prisons do nothing to help them.

The introduction of drug testing in prisons has actually made the problem worse. Inmates who once smoked cannabis are now turning to heroin and other hard drugs. These remain detectable in the body for a much shorter time, thus giving a greater chance of avoiding a positive drug test. An ill-conceived policy to reduce the drug problem is creating a huge number of heroin addicts that must one day be released back into society.

I am not condoning the use of drugs, but I believe that if prisons continue to cut back on education, training, work and time out of cells, then inmates will be pushed further into the grip of drugs. Now is the time to deal with it, not next year or the year after, when society has to deal with thousands of heroin-addicted ex-inmates. The current drug testing policy must be postponed until an effective support and rehabilitation mechanism is introduced.

Darren Lee

HM Prison Highpoint

Newmarket, Suffolk