Pubdate: Sun, 02 Sep 2007
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Copyright: 2007 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Author: Gary Cleland


Prisoners have revealed that drugs are so rife in open prisons that 
they are seeking transfers to higher security jails to avoid them. 
Inmates are deliberately walking out of prison or reoffending so as 
to avoid being pressured into buying heroin, cannabis or crack cocaine.

Mike Trace, chief executive of Rapt, the Rehabilitation of Addicted 
Prisoners Trust, the main prisons drugs charity, and formerly the 
deputy drugs czar, said lax conditions in open prisons were undoing 
the good work of the government's UKP80m-a-year antidrugs programme.

"Open prisons have been allowed to become pretty free and easy 
places. There is a very available drug culture and a lot of peer 
pressure and intimidation for people to take drugs or become involved 
in the drug market," he said.

"Open prisons are the last place you want to put somebody who has 
been on a drug treatment programme."

Shane Jones, 26, from Leigh, Lancashire, who was jailed for robbery 
that was linked to his heroin addiction, came off drugs while at 
Forest Bank, a category B prison in Salford, Greater Manchester.

However, on his transfer to Kirkham open prison, in Lancashire, he 
came under intense pressure from dealers. In May he decided the only 
way to avoid becoming addicted again was to walk out, according to 
Philip Martin, the barrister who represented him at Liverpool crown 
court after he absconded.

"He had been clean and he had lots of certificates to show that he 
was clean. He had pleaded with the prison authorities not to send him 
to Kirkham," said Martin.

"When he got there he mentioned it to his prison officer. They 
wouldn't do anything about it, so in the end he walked out, went 
straight to the police and basically asked to be taken back to prison."

Jones was returned to Forest Bank and was given an extra four months 
on his sentence.

Rapt runs 10 of the 20 intensive drug treatment programmes in British 
jails but there are none available in the open prisons. While those 
inmates who come off drugs are put in drugs-free wings, there is no 
segregation in open prisons. A drugs treatment programme costs UKP3,500.

Drugs charities believe the figures understate the problem, as 
inmates have moved from taking cannabis, which is easily detectable, 
to heroin, which passes through the body's digestive system within 72 hours.

Simon Creighton, one of the country's top prison lawyers, said: "I 
have one client who has absconded five times. He is vociferous that 
the problem is drugs.

"When prisoners who have had drugs problems get to open prisons there 
is very, very little support there."

Some prisoners resort to reoffending. One former prisoner, who turned 
down a transfer to an open prison because he had been told of the 
drugs problems, said: "You get people who cut themselves up, they 
blockade themselves in their cells. They just keep causing trouble."

Courts have heard a procession of inmates blaming drugs for their 
decision to walk out of open prisons. In June, Ian Norton, 34, who 
was serving time for burglary, walked out of Sudbury open prison, 
Derbyshire, after begging not to be sent there. He claimed he had 
been offered drugs within hours of his arrival.

In April, Craig McCusker walked out of Castle Huntly open prison near 
Dundee because, he told the court, the prisoners were "all using 
drugs and sharing needles".

He was free for just 30 minutes before he was rearrested and he 
cheered in court when he was sent back to a higher security jail.

Kannan Siva, a solicitor, said he was baffled by a system that worked 
hard to get prisoners off drugs, only to founder as they approached freedom.

Siva, who defended Stewart Lee Boardman, 27, who had absconded from 
Leyhill prison, Gloucestershire, said: "The prisoner is surrounded by 
temptation and all the good work appears to be undone."

The Ministry of Justice said it does not record the reasons given by 
prisoners for why they walk out of jail. Last year 704 inmates 
absconded from open prisons.

A prison officer working in an open prison, who spoke on condition of 
anonymity, said: "They [the prisoners] come in at four o'clock and by 
six o' clock they have been offered drugs. They rant and rave until 
we put them in the cells to be transferred."
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