Written Answers - Drugs in Prisons.

Wednesday, 2 February 2005

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 596 No. 4

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  300.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe  Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe   asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform  Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell   the steps which have been taken to implement his commitment in the programme for Government to create a drug-free prison system. [2918/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  Mindful of the commitments in the programme for Government, a group comprising Irish Prison Service management, prison governors, health authority representatives and clinicians has been consulted regarding a drugs policy for the Irish Prison Service. The policy will have regard to the commitment in the programme for Government to end all heroin use in Irish prisons and my commitment to achieving a drug-free prison system. Working to fulfil those commitments will involve implementation of stringent measures to prevent drugs from getting into prisons while, at the same time, continuing to invest in services in prisons to reduce the demand for illicit drugs in the prisoner population and meet prisoners’ treatment needs.

Central to supporting future supply and demand reduction will be the introduction of mandatory drug testing as envisaged in the prog[1630]ramme for Government. It will enable identification and referral of drug abusers to treatment programmes, enable enhanced focusing of resources and act as a deterrent to drug misuse. The new prison rules which are currently being finalised by my Department will include specific provision for mandatory drug testing.

In the meantime, several measures are being implemented to curtail the supply of drugs into prisons, including video surveillance, improved visiting and searching facilities, and increased vigilance by staff. Netting has been installed over the recreation yards in several of our closed prisons to prevent contraband material, such as drugs, being propelled over exterior walls. Future prison designs will seek to locate recreation yards away from perimeter walls as part of further efforts to frustrate the supply of illegal drugs. Other measures to counter the supply of drugs in prisons include screened visits in Cloverhill and the midlands prisons and new visiting arrangements at Mountjoy Prison.

Measures to reduce the demand for drugs in the prison system include education, treatment and rehabilitation of drug-addicted offenders. Those programmes and interventions are delivered on an individual and co-ordinated basis by [1631]the psychology service, probation and welfare service, prison education service and prison officers. Particular initiatives put in place include drug-free areas, drug misuse awareness programmes, support programmes and appropriate health interventions, substitution therapies, vaccination programmes and treatment for viral illnesses. In addition, the Irish Prison Service provides prisoners with a range of opportunities to encourage them to aspire to a substance-free lifestyle, before and after release, thereby reducing demand for illicit substances.

No level of illegal drug consumption in a prison setting is acceptable to me or to the prison authorities. It is my intention and that of the Irish Prison Service, in line with the commitments in the programme for Government, to continue to take all necessary measures to reduce and eliminate drug misuse among prisoners.

  301.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe  Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe   asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform  Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell   if he will report on the circumstances relating to the latest report of incidents of major drug dealing in Cork Prison; the length of time this has been taking place; the steps he has taken to end or curtail this activity; and the further steps he proposes to address the situation. [2919/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  I can confirm that an arrest took place recently regarding an attempt to smuggle a significant quantity of contraband, including what appeared to be several illicit substances, into Cork Prison. As this matter is currently the subject of a criminal investigation, I am sure that the Deputy can appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to comment further on this matter, except to say that the person arrested no longer has access to the prison.

  302.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe  Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe   asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform  Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell   the extent of drug dealing and drug usage in prisons, including the precise figures for the past three years. [2920/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  It is extremely difficult to quantify the precise level of illegal drugs supplied or consumed by prisoners while in custody, particularly given the extremely covert nature of illicit drug supply and use in a custodial setting. However, an independent study by the Health Research Board, Drug Use Among Prisoners: An Exploratory Study, which was published in 2001, found that, “Once imprisoned, those who continued to engage in illicit drug use greatly reduced the quantity of drugs they used, and the frequency with which they used them, when compared to their drug use in the community.” This study focused on the Mountjoy Prison complex and involved anonymous and confidential interviews with prisoners who were long-term drug abusers. The study reported that:

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