Pubdate: Wed, 30 June 1999
Source: Daily Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: of Telegraph Group Limited 1999
Author: Andrew Sparrow, Political Correspondent


The system used to test prisoners for drugs was yesterday condemned as
"useless" by Sir David Ramsbotham, the Chief Inspector of Prisons.

He said the mandatory drug testing regime, which produces results showing
that one in five inmates is using drugs, failed to demonstrate the scale of
the problem. Warning MPs that there were probably at least 10 "drug barons"
in each of the 135 jails in England and Wales, Sir David said that all
prisoners should be tested the moment they arrive.

He also argued that prison officers should be subjected to random drug
tests, which he claimed would help to allay suspicions that some supplied
inmates. Sir David outlined his plans to the Commons home affairs committee,
which is conducting an inquiry into drugs and prisons.

In 1996 all prisons were told to start carrying out mandatory drug tests on
a random 10 per cent of inmates every month. Jack Straw, the Home Secretary,
recently changed these targets to say that five per cent of prisoners should
be tested randomly in the monthly checks, while another five per cent should
be subjected to "targeted" tests aimed at suspected users.

However, Sir David said he was "unhappy" about the mandatory testing regime
because it did not provide reliable evidence about the extent of drug use.
He said: "Unless you test everyone, you do not get true figures."

Inmates give a urine sample which is sent for analysis at a cost of 70
pounds. Sir David said that it would be much better to use the "dip test",
which involves a urine sample being assessed with piece of litmus paper
costing only a few pence. The sample is only sent off for full analysis if
it is suspicious.

"The dip test could be done much more often and much more cheaply," said Sir
David. Paul Stinchcombe, a Labour MP, pointed out that if only five per cent
of inmates are being randomly tested a month, a prisoner could expect to go
for 20 months without being checked.

He then asked Sir David if he agreed that the mandatory testing regime was a
"useless endeavour". Sir David replied: "I could not agree with you more."
Sir David pointed out that up to 20 per cent of criminals have been using
heroin or another Class A drug shortly before going into jail.

Recent figures have also shown that, while seizures of cannabis in prisons
have fallen in recent years, seizures of heroin have gone up from 350 in
1994 to 1,079 last year.

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