Since the start of 2020, new survey data has emerged showing that the proportion of UK prisons with a drug problem have more than doubled in the last 5 years.

Think-tank, Reform, ran an analysis of data found within surveys carried out by HM Inspectorate of Prisons. Within the data, they found that the proportion of prisoners who reported a drug problem in prison had risen from 6.6% to 15% since the start of 2015.

There are several possible reasons for this dramatic rise in drug abuse within our ULK prisons, yet knowing the reasons may not necessarily make it possible to find a solution.

New Psychoactive drugs.

Spice is a big player within this field. A drug which is difficult to detect, easy to smuggle in, and even easier to overdose on and become addicted to. Spice is the most popular psychoactive drug within the prisons. It is a liquid, which can be sprayed onto paper, the paper is then ripped up, added to roll up cigarettes and then smoked.

Spice can be smuggled in to prisons by being sprayed on children’s drawings and letters, so very unsuspicious.

Being a relatively new drug on the market, there isn’t a great deal we know about the long term effects of using Spice. What we do know is that the ingredients can change in order to avoid drug laws, (many ingredients are illegal) but this adjustment in ingredients can make the drug extremely unpredictable. Overdose is easy to do, and deaths have occurred.

Psychoactive drugs are known to be extremely addictive anyway, let alone within prisons. If we consider the average level of mental health within the establishments, adding withdrawal into the mix without the required support becomes a recipe for disaster.

Equipment within the prisons.

Body Scanners and paper scanners are vital in order to detect and signs of drugs within the vast number of letters coming through the doors, and during visiting times. Plugging the supply is something that needs to happen in order to move forward, however, this equipment is expensive, so there is a slight delay in distributing the required pieces of kit to the prisons in need.

An example has been made of HMP Nottingham, a Cat B prison which was given a warning buy the Inspectorate, regarding the high levels of drug use and violence. After the received warning, the prison received a body scanner, however, HMP Bedford who received the same warning, did not.


The fact that many prisons are struggling with overcrowding is no secret, however, research has shown that the use of community service sentences had declined by 52% since 2010, this is despite evidence that they are more effective, and much cheaper for the taxpayer.

It is clear that there needs to be a place in prison for serious offences, however, minor crimes, committed by those only required to carry out a short term sentence, could potentially be dealt with in other ways.

It has been argued, within a report by Reform, that short term sentences are actually counterintuitive, and lead to overcrowding within the prison population. The Think-tank has put a suggestion forward to the Ministry of Justice to consider banning, or reducing the use of short term, custodial sentences.

Lack of staff.

We are fully aware of the issue of too many prisoners and not enough staff. The issue is now that the working conditions in many prisons are becoming so bad that there is a vast turnover of staff, meaning that the highly trained staff members are thin on the ground.

Yes, numbers are needed, absolutely, but expertise is invaluable.

Things must change.

The rise which we have seen in recent years in regards to drug abuse, are numbers that cannot repeat themselves. The use of drugs within prisons has a huge effect on mental health, and is causing the numbers of self harming, and violence to rise.

All in all, this issue is creating a very unstable environment, which is detrimental to the main purpose of reform and rehabilitation of prisoners.

The system is crumbling; something needs to be done.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Illicit substances pose huge challenges in our prisons which is why we are investing £100m in airport-style security – including x-ray body scanners – to stop them getting in.

“This is part of our £2.75bn investment to make jails safer for offenders and staff, while working closely with healthcare providers to ensure prisoners have the support they need to live drug-free upon release.”

Please follow and like us: