Inside Out: How to get drugs out of prison

Image of report coverPolitical will necessary to eradicate drugs from prison

  • Drug use rife in prisons
  • Government approach is reactive and over-dependent on flawed Mandatory Drugs Tests
  • Political will and intelligence based approach necessary if drugs to be eliminated from prisons

Drugs are widespread in British prisons, undermining any attempt to clean up prisoners from pre-existing addictions, greatly increasing the chances of recidivism and corrupting staff, writes Huseyin Djemil, a former Drug Strategy Co-ordinator for the seven London Prisons and himself a former heroin and crack cocaine addict in Inside Out: how to get drugs out of prison published today Monday 9 June by the Centre for Policy Studies.

Djemil shows how, in terms of both treatment and containing supply, the Government appears to be more interested in managing the problem than in eradicating it. Hence treatment is focused not on stopping addiction but on prescribing substitute drugs (such as methadone). Similarly, interrupting supply is focussed on trying to keep up with the drugs trail through prison, rather than by eliminating the drugs market completely.

This reactive approach is inadequate. The Government – which has yet to publish the Blakey Review on drugs in prison –  has committed more resources in an attempt to stop the supply of drugs into prison. And yet today there are probably more drugs in prison than ever before.

Mandatory Drugs Tests (MDTs) – a key part of the Government’s strategy – are both unreliable and potentially dangerous. The Government claims that they have helped reduce drug use in prison from 24.4% of prisoners in 1996/97 to 8.8% in 2006/07. Huseyin demonstrates how MDTs should not be considered as reliable indicators of drug use in prison – and how they encourage the use of Class A drugs over cannabis (traces of the latter stay in the body for longer than traces of the former).

The problem is that no one in authority understands the prison drugs market. At the moment no one knows how many people are using drugs in prison; no one knows what drugs they use and how often; no one knows how the drugs get into prison; no one knows how they are stored and sold.

Prisons hardly exchange information with each other on the prison drugs market; and the Prison Service hardly speaks to external agencies about drugs in prisons (HMPS is, for example, not implementing the National Intelligence Model, an approach designed to help law enforcement agencies share information); responsibility for stemming the supply of drugs into prison is confused between various levels of management.

Djemil proposes a new pre-emptive intelligence-led approach, one which would start from the premise that all illicit drugs should be eliminated from prisons; establish the ability for prisons to share information on the supply of drugs throughout the system; enable prisons to work with the rest of the law enforcement community to develop intelligence systems that mirror those of their law enforcement counterparts.


  1. Inside Out: How to get drugs out of prisons by Huseyin Djemil is published today Monday 9 June 2008 by the Centre for Policy Studies. Price £7.50.
  2. Huseyin Djemil is a former Drug Strategy Co-ordinator for the seven London Prisons and has worked in the drugs field with criminal justice clients and in prisons for the last 15 years. Before that he underwent rehabilitation for heroin and crack cocaine addiction.
  3. This report is the first publication of the Centre for Policy Studies Prisons and Addictions Forum (PandA). Its aim is to challenge the prevailing wisdom on drug policy; and to advocate the reform of and reduction in the role of the state in this area of policy. Despite unprecedented treatment investment and intervention over the Government’s ten years in office, this period has seen the number of hard addicts rise sevenfold, a drug death rate rising to 18 times higher than the Netherlands plus the highest rate of school age drug use in Europe.
  4. To contact the author, please call Tim Knox (CPS Editor) on 0207222 4042 (direct line) or 07906 562 202 (mobile)

Huseyin Djemil - Sunday, 1st June, 2008