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23 Sep 2016

Attempt to tackle new psychoactive substances in prison risks repeating mistakes of the past

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman’s announcement that new psychoactive substances may have played a part in the deaths of at least 58 prisoners.

Nigel Newcomen’s speech came a day after it emerged that the Secretary of State for Justice, Elizabeth Truss, hopes to tackle the problem by imposing mandatory drug testing and new penalties.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The rising death toll in prisons shames the nation and underlines the urgent need for reform. It is disappointing, therefore, that the new Secretary of State for Justice’s first major announcement is a misguided attempt to punish drugs out of prisons – a policy that has signally failed for many years.

“Mandatory drug testing has been used for more than a decade. It hasn’t stopped drugs getting into prisons, but it has inflated the market and made them more lucrative to sell inside.

“More than one million days of additional punishment have been imposed on prisoners in the last six years, for a range of misdemeanours including drug use. This approach has only succeeded in creating a downward spiral, pushing people into deeper currents of crime and exacerbating overcrowding.

“Action needs to be taken to deal with drugs in prisons, but getting it wrong by doing the wrong thing only risks making it worse and could cause more deaths and more mayhem.

“Solving the problems in our overcrowded prisons requires imaginative thinking and bold action to stop throwing so many people into these failing institutions.”

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  1. A copy of Nigel Newcomen’s speech will be available on the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman website.


Rob Preece
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