PRISONS: Drug use has soared by 1,100% on Nicola Sturgeon’s watch

Tory spokesman Russell Findlay, Drugs minister Angela Constance and the prison drugs scene.

By Bill Heaney

The number of prisoners caught with drugs in Scotland’s jails has increased by a staggering 1,100% during Nicola Sturgeon’s time in office.

In 2014-15, there were 152 incidents of prisoners being caught taking or hiding a prohibited substance. But figures from the Scottish Prison Service reveal that in 2021-22 that had soared to 1,832 instances.

That amounts to a “staggering” increase of 1,105% since Nicola Sturgeon became First Minister.

The number of deaths in Scottish prisons is at a record high – and significantly worse than in England – with drug deaths a significant component in the toll.

The most recent figures showed a 77% overall rise in deaths in prison. In the past two years, at least 25 of them were as a result of drug use.

Prison officers warned for years that drug-soaked mail had become the biggest source of narcotics behind bars.

But SNP justice secretary Keith Brown only took action last year after a Scottish Conservative campaign exposed the scale of the problem, including a mass overdose at HMP Shotts.

The new policy of photocopying mail has resulted in a substantial and immediate reduction in drug incidents and ambulance call outs.

Scottish Conservative MSP Russell Findlay described the massive rise in prison drugs under Sturgeon as a “damning indictment” of her government’s soft-touch approach to justice.

The  shadow community safety minister said: “Nicola Sturgeon and her ministers should hang their heads in shame at this extreme rise in prison drug use.

“Prisons awash with drugs are more dangerous for staff and inevitably lead to more overdoses and deaths, while heaping further pressure on the NHS.

“Such toxic environments make it almost impossible for prisoners with addictions to recover and to break their costly cycle of re-offending. We all pay the price.

“The shocking levels of drugs in Scotland’s prisons mirrors the carnage in our communities. They are a damning indictment of SNP soft-touch justice.

“Nicola Sturgeon, pictured left,  slashed funding for addiction services as drugs deaths soared and her government ignored prisons officers’ warnings about drug-soaked mail. Little wonder Scotland has become Europe’s drug death capital.”

Meanwhile, in 2014-15, the number of times prisoners were caught ‘consuming/ taking/injecting/ingesting/inhaling or concealing an unauthorised or prohibited substance’ stood at 152 incidents. The latest year’s statistics confirm that prisoners ‘consuming/taking/injecting/inhaling or concealing an unauthorised or prohibited article’ stood at 1,832 cases – an increase of 1105% in the space of just seven years. (Scottish Prison Service Annual Report 2021-22, 20 October 2022, linkScottish Prison Service Annual Report 2014-15, 13 July 2015, link).

Russell Findlay MSP highlighted a series of deaths and overdoses in prisons. This included six prisoners at HMP Shotts being taken to hospital last November (Daily Record LINK)

SNP justice secretary Keith Brown later agreed to introduce a new policy of photocopying prison mail. He made the announcement to parliament in response to questions from Findlay (Scottish Parliament LINK).

The new policy has had a significant effect. It has resulted in a reduction in the number of drugs incidents in Scottish prisons (Herald LINK) and in drug-soaked mail (STV News LINK).

A study from the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research by academics at Stirling and Glasgow Universities found that nearly 40 per cent of prisoners reported using drugs while in prison.

Of those, one in ten began using drugs in prison, while between a quarter and a third had illegal substances in their bodies on discharge. The report concluded that there were was ‘a lack of a joined up approach’ and ‘a number of areas that require urgent attention (Toomey et al 2022, link).

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