Pubdate: Sun, 23 May 2004
Source: Sunday Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: Telegraph Group Limited 2004
Author: Daniel Foggo, Carl Fellstrom
Bookmark: (Incarceration)
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


Prison officers are deliberately failing to test inmates who are taking 
drugs in an attempt to conceal the extent of substance abuse in Britain's 

An investigation by The Sunday Telegraph has uncovered evidence that a 
secret policy is being operated by staff in which prisoners who are not 
using drugs are tested repeatedly, while others who are thought to be using 
drugs are selected for tests far less frequently.

The aim is to increase the proportion of negative results recorded for a 
prison, which in turn means that official government figures record a lower 
incidence of drug abuse in jails than is the case.

The covert practice was disclosed to this newspaper in tape-recorded 
interviews by senior officials, including a former prison governor and a 
former head of prison security.

Both reported that there was widespread collusion to give a false 
impression of the level of drug use in jails and to help the Prison Service 
meet government targets for reducing abuse.

Since 1996 drug testing has been mandatory in prisons. Test results form 
one of the Prison Service's performance targets, which are used to 
determine how well each jail is performing. Failure to achieve these 
targets can result in a governor losing his job.

Last year, official government figures showed that just 11.7 per cent of 
prisoners tested positive. Many former prisoners and staff believe, 
however, that up to 70 per cent of the prison population takes drugs.

A former senior prison officer, who was the head of security at his jail 
and implemented its drugs testing regime, said that "massaging" of 
drug-test figures was widespread.

The official, who agreed to be interviewed on condition of anonymity, said: 
"It is open to abuse. Prisons go to a particular chap they know is not on 
drugs and test him frequently. Officers have admitted it to me. Obviously, 
it is disguising the problem nationally."

In the past three years the Government has set increasingly tough targets 
for reducing drug abuse.

In 2003, just 11.7 per cent of tests produced a positive result, only 
slightly above the government target of 10 per cent. In the previous two 
years, the percentage of positive results was similarly low, although in 
both these years the government target, which was 12 per cent in 2002 and 
16 per cent in 2001, was achieved.

Selection of the inmates who are tested is carried out in several ways. 
Each month between five and 10 per cent of each prison's population is 
chosen randomly by computer for testing.

These results are collated by the Prison Service to form the national 

Other suspects can be chosen for testing at any time at the discretion of 
the prison officers.

The results of these tests are also passed to the Prison Service but are 
not included in the statistic.

Problems with drug use have reached such proportions at some open prisons 
that inmates have fled, fearing that they would become addicted if they stayed.

At North Sea Camp prison near Boston in Lincolnshire, 53 prisoners have 
absconded in the past year alone.

The Sunday Telegraph has been passed a series of photographs taken within 
the past year depicting prisoners at North Sea Camp smoking and injecting 
heroin in their cells.

A former inmate of several institutions said: "I have never taken drugs and 
the screws knew it, so they would target me and other lads they knew were 
clean because it made the figures look good. I would say about 60 to 70 per 
cent of the prisoners are using heroin."

A former prison governor, who also requested anonymity, said that there 
were other ways in which the drug tests were distorted.

"Some of the people the computer picks are going to be away on day visits, 
so you run another lot [of names]. You are not supposed to handpick those, 
but it could be fiddled," he said.

"What some prisons also do is warn the prisoners that they are going to be 
random tested."

A spokesman for the Prison Service admitted that the "actual percentage" of 
those using drugs was probably higher than the official statistics suggested.

"We believe the procedure is pretty robust but there is no procedure that 
is 100 per cent robust," she said.
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