Home > Dail Eireann debate. Other question 100 - Drugs in prisons [22504/07].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Other question 100 - Drugs in prisons [22504/07]. (09 Oct 2007)

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100. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will proceed with the planned introduction of full drugs screening in jails; his further plans to reduce the flow of drugs into prisons. [22504/07]

Deputy Brian Lenihan: In May 2006, my predecessor launched the Irish Prison Service drugs policy and strategy, entitled Keeping Drugs out of Prison. The implementation of this policy and strategy has seen an intensification of efforts to eliminate the availability of illicit drugs within prisons.

A key part of these efforts is the introduction of mandatory drug testing, which is provided for under the prison rules which became operational on 1 October 2007. Other elements include enhancement of CCTV, utilisation of video scope camera cell search systems, and enhanced security generally. In addition, new visiting arrangements are in place in almost all closed prisons whereby only persons who have been nominated by the prisoner and pre-approved by the governor are permitted to visit. Facilities for screened visits have been installed in all closed prisons. In accordance with the Prison Service drugs policy and strategy, prisoners in respect of whom the governor is satisfied that there is no risk of contraband being passed may be facilitated with open visits. Prisoners who are caught receiving drugs or who test positive for drugs will be facilitated with screened visits only.

On enhanced security, I have recently announced a range of security measures aimed at keeping contraband out of prisons. These measures include the establishment of a drug detection dog service within the Prison Service; the establishment of an operational support group dedicated to, and developing expertise in, searching and gathering intelligence; and the introduction of enhanced security screening and searching of all persons - prisoners, visitors and staff - entering prisons. The drug detection dog service will involve approximately 30 staff and an appropriate number of dogs. A pilot service has been in place since 23 May 2006 and is currently running in the midlands-Portlaoise area and also in Wheatfield and Cloverhill prisons, the Mountjoy complex and Cork and Limerick prisons. The operational support group will be available in addition to the normal prison staff and can target specific problem areas. It will also gather and collate intelligence information in prisons, carry out high profile escorts and assist the chief officer in charge of security in the continuing assessment and improvement of security. There are drug-free units in Wheatfield Prison, St. Patrick’s Institution, Castlerea Prison and Mountjoy Prison.

Deputy James Reilly: They are only small.

Deputy Brian Lenihan: There is also a detox programme in operation in Mountjoy. In addition, the training unit in Arbour Hill, Loughan House and Shelton Abbey are regarded as drug-free institutions.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: I know the Minister is interested in history. I refer him back to the last programme for Government, for which I presume he also takes responsibility. It includes the statement: By the end of 2002 we will publish a plan to completely end all heroin use in Irish persons. This will include the availability of treatment and rehabilitation for all who need them and the introduction of compulsory drug testing for prisoners where necessary. This was in the zero tolerance era. The latest programme for Government promises to build on this and do it all over again. My question was prompted by information prominently displayed in the public domain to the effect that the Government has “capitulated” in its commitment to introduce drugs screening in prisons and is not proceeding as set out in the programme for Government. The Minister has provided much useful information, but it is not pertinent to the question of whether it is true that the Government is no longer proceeding to maintain our prison institutions as drug free and taking the necessary steps to ensure this is the case. Does the professional advice available to the Minister indicate that it might be dangerous to proceed as the Government intended in making our prisons drug free?

Deputy Brian Lenihan: The Deputy appears to be under a misapprehension. I have received no such professional advice. One of the first matters I brought to the Government as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform was a comprehensive programme of measures to prevent the smuggling of drugs into prisons. Under the pilot drug detection dogs scheme, searching has been concentrated on visitors, but limited proactive searching of areas within prisons has also taken place. The evidence is that the teams have had a significant interception and deterrent effect, and the current contract has been extended to November of this year. I am satisfied that the introduction of drug detection dogs has led to a significant reduction in the number of drugs being introduced into prisons. It is my intention to establish a permanent drug detection dog unit within the Prison Service. In addition, as previously stated, new prison visiting arrangements have been introduced and enhanced detection technology services are being applied.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I will allow a final supplementary question from Deputy Reilly.

Deputy James Reilly: I was going to congratulate the Minister on the new measures being put in place. However, Deputy Rabbitte has reminded us that all of this was promised before. This strikes a chord in terms of what is happening in the health service. I and other GPs cannot understand why the opportunity is not taken while people are incarcerated to ensure they get and remain free of drugs. Everybody now acknowledges that a person who is sent to jail-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I ask the Deputy to put a question to the Minister.

Deputy James Reilly: I will do so presently.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy must do so immediately so that we can commence the next business.

Deputy James Reilly: Why is that the numbers emerging from prisoners as drug-users are greater than for those who enter prison abusing drugs? What proposals does the Minister have to address this availability? How will he provide resources within prisons to ensure prisoners can access detoxification programmes and subsequently stay off drugs? The sniffer dogs should be brought into pubs also.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Jack Russells, however, should be kept out of pubs.

Deputy Brian Lenihan: As a respected general practitioner, I am sure Deputy Reilly is aware of the concept of a willing patient. We are investing substantial resources throughout the prison system in the types of services to which the Deputy referred. However, it requires a willing patient to avail of them. Other Questions Drugs in Prisons 9 October 2007

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