The Escalating Problem of Psychoactive Drugs in UK Prisons

November 28, 2016 - 4 minutes read

According to the latest figures, use of psychoactive drugs, commonly dubbed ‘legal highs,’ has soared in UK prisons. In 2011, just 136 drugs stashes were seized by authorities. In 2015, the number had risen to 4,261 – over 30 times as high.

Some of the UK’s largest prisons such as HMP Pentonville HMP Altcourse Lowdham Grange prison and HMP Manchester or Strangeways as its often referred  have been worst affected.

On average, prison officers are seizing 10 stashes of psychoactive drugs per day. It’s becoming a major issue. The big question is – what action is being taken to combat the problem?

Police and drugs

Legal Highs – What’s the Big Deal?

It’s a common reaction to underestimate the severity of the issue. After all, these drugs can be legally purchased outside of prison, which leads many to believe that they can’t be that harmful. Regrettably, they can.

The drugs have been linked to escalating violence behind bars, and it’s caused 58 deaths so far. Mike Trace, chief executive for the Rehabilitation of Addicted Prisoners Trust, commented last year: “Our frontline teams have seen an alarming surge in the use of new psychoactive substances in just the last year. Staff are also reporting distressing levels of violence, both from the effects of these drugs, but also the lucrative market exploited by gangs.”

‘More Addictive than Crack’

The most common psychoactive drug in prison is Spice, which is regarded as so addictive, it’s also been called ‘green crack’. It has a variety of other names, such as Black Mamba and Clockwork Orange.

A prisoner known as Dave recently shared his experiences of Spice with the BBC. Originally imprisoned in 2011, Dave entered prison with both alcohol and drug addiction issues; and presumed that being in prison would help him to get clean. Instead, he found that drugs were more available inside prison than out – and he soon became addicted to Spice.

“The minute I picked up that legal high,” he said, “I couldn’t put it down.” Dave also informed the BBC about its dangerous side-effects, and that some people “were feeling they were having heart attacks” while high on Spice.

It’s estimated between 60% and 90% of the prison population have used Spice at some point.

Taking Action

In January 2016, the government received Royal Assent for The Psychoactive Substances Act, which officially came into force in May. The Act makes it an offence to produce, supply or possess (on prison premises) these types of drugs, with a maximum sentence of 7 years’ imprisonment.

The Act also gave officials the right to stop and search people, vehicles and vessels, and enter and search premises with a warrant. They also have the right to seize and destroy psychoactive substances.

However, some people aren’t convinced this is enough. A new petition has started, demanding a thorough enquiry into the current situation, in light of the claims made on the Secret Lives of Prisons documentary.

If the petition gathers enough signatures, the matter will be debated, and hopefully, more measures will be taken to combat the problem. To add your name to the petition, or to find out more details, simply click here.

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References:

https://uk.news.yahoo.com/legal-high-use-in-prisons-shot-up-30-times-in-five-years-105855742.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/34787158/legal-high-use-in-prison-is-getting-worse-by-the-day

http://www.russellwebster.com/tackling-new-psychoactive-substances-in-prison/

https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/psychoactive-substances-bill-2015

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/172271

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