Checks fail to curb drug abuse in prisons

There is “no strong evidence” the drugs problem in Irish prisons is reducing, despite the massive security infrastructure put in place, according to a new report.

An investigation by the State’s drugs advisory body said prison authorities “should recognise that drugs, particularly cannabis, were making their way through the security checks”.

Researchers did admit there were some signs that policing and community measures may be reducing the supply of harder drugs.

In a series of revelations, the 125-page research found high rates of usage in prison, including:

* Between 68% and 79% of inmates used cannabis in prison in the last year.

* Between 24% and 63% had taken benzodiazepines (tranquillisers).

* Between 28% and 52% had consumed other sedatives.

* Between 10% and 38% had taken heroin.

In one startling finding, the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol (Nacda) found that 43% of inmates who had used heroin first started taking it in jail.

The team of researchers, which did its fieldwork in February and March 2011, catalogued the country’s 14 institutions.

Low use prisons were Arbour Hill, Loughan House and Shelton Abbey. Medium use prisons were Castlerea, Cork, Midlands, St Patrick’s Institution and the Training Unit. High use were Limerick Male, Mountjoy, Portlaoise and Wheatfield. Very high use were Cloverhill (Remand), Dochas (Women’s) and Limerick Female.

The researchers said drug usage among inmates was multiples of that in the general population. Lifetime usage was 87% for cannabis (25% in the general population), 74% for cocaine (1%) and 43% for heroin (1%).

The report found that female inmates were significantly more likely than men to use sedatives, heroin, methadone and crack — and to inject.

Researchers said use of prescription drugs, like benzodiazepine, sedatives and tranquillisers was “highly prevalent among prisoners”.

Highlighting the scale of the illicit supply of these tablets, it found that between 51% and 67% of users got them from someone they knew, rather than from the prison.

Comparing their findings with previous studies it said: “From the comparisons that can be made there is no strong evidence to suggest that the drug problem in prisons is reducing.”

It said there were some signs that more concerted policing and community development strategies may be influencing drug supply, particularly of harder drugs.

The report said prison policy may have helped in the reduction of blood-borne viruses, including hepatitis B and HIV and hepatitis C.

Researchers pointed out that 11% of the survey sample were Travellers (18% within the 18-24 population), describing it as an “inordinately high representation”.

The report said there was a need for drug-free wings.

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