Drugs in prisons

In the 1990s, preventing the escape of Category A prisoners became the number one priority for Ministers.

Today's threat to prison security is internal - organised criminality in our jails, manifested in smuggled contraband and widespread drug taking.

Prisons should be drug-free environments. It is unacceptable that in a place where the authority of the State should be absolute, the environment becomes infiltrated with drugs.

Building a safer society depends on secure prison regimes that rehabilitate offenders and reduce re-offending. Prisons should be places that bear down on criminality - not environments that harbour it.

Half of offenders arriving into prison are problem drug users. That means around 39,000 prisoners with a serious drug problem are present in custody at any one time. But ineffective treatment programmes and weak security fail to help them.

Open family visits, drugs thrown over walls and multiple prisoner movements all present security challenges - but corruption in the system is also a serious problem and it must be confronted.

New figures revealing 15,000 drugs seizures in just three years aren't evidence of success - if they were, the Ministry of Justice wouldn't have been so reluctant to publish them. What they reveal is the scale of the problem.

A Home Office study in 2005 found that a quarter of prisoners said they had used drugs whilst in their current prison. Not only are prisons failing to stop drugs coming in, they are actually creating new addicts. The Government admits that about one in five men who report using drugs first used them in prison.

Mandatory drug testing is flawed, because urine samples can be easily switched. It has already been abandoned in Scotland; now we need a new testing regime for England and Wales. And we need more programmes that break addiction rather than maintaining it.

Reduced overcrowding in jails is necessary to create more stable environments and fewer prisoner movements. So a Conservative Government will provide an additional 5,000 prison places by redeveloping the prison estate.

Under our Rehabilitation Revolution, governors will have both the resources and the incentives to confront drugs because their prison will be measured by how much they reduce re-offending - and paid by results.

Our sentencing reforms will replace automatic early release with 'Earned Release', giving prisoners a powerful new incentive to obey the rules and avoid drugs - or face longer periods inside.

The uncomfortable truth is that too many of our jails are unproductive human warehouses where idleness reigns and drugs are rife. It is time for prisons to go clean.

Michelle Taylor