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Prison initiative will help criminals get clean of drugs

PUBLISHED: 08:00 20 April 2009 | UPDATED: 09:03 06 July 2010

A hi-tech £26m Norfolk prison wing will help thousands of offenders tackle their drug addictions and aims to reduce crime on our streets.

A hi-tech £26m Norfolk prison wing will help thousands of offenders tackle their drug addictions - and aims to reduce crime on our streets.

Workers are at the final stage of fitting out Norwich jail's new 210-bed A-wing which will replace its dilapidated predecessor, once judged to be unfit for human habitation, and be dedicated to treating inmates with drug problems.

The first purpose-built unit of its kind in the country, it features advanced equipment including eye scanners and airlocks which ensure prisoners have access only to the drugs necessary for their rehabilitation.

And it is likely to act as a prototype as the government looks to expand its prison estate.

Governor Paul Baker said he was determined to do everything possible to tackle the menace of substance abuse - and also help convicts stay clear of crime once they are released.

He said: “I don't want to give any prisoner an excuse to stay on drugs. We will offer them everything they need to get clean.

“If they choose not to take that opportunity, I have no problem with going in hard. They may find themselves spending a lot of time in segregation and will not be getting any privileges.”

Criminals with drugs problems make up roughly two-thirds of the nation's prison population. In Norwich alone 2,500 prisoners required help with drug problems last year and fewer than half successfully completed their treatment.

The national reoffending rate currently stands at about 69pc - with criminals returning to their drug habits cited as a major factor.

Mr Baker said: “There is no doubt that the number one cause of crime in this country is drugs. It is time that more was done to address that.”

From August inmates at the Knox Road jail will be housed in individual cells specially designed to eliminate ligature points. This should prevent suicides while prisoners are in detox. Even the taps have been replaced by buttons so they cannot be used in hangings.

There are corner mirrors so prisoners cannot hide from a guard looking through their cell door.

Along with traditional three-month rehabilitation courses, the prison will also offer five week courses for those serving shorter sentences, available the moment a person enters the jail on remand.

An inner fence has been erected near the unit to help prevent drugs being thrown in over the outer wall.

Although Mr Baker acknowledges that it is unlikely drugs will be completely eliminated inside prisons, he aims to tackle this by reducing demand.

For prisoners for whom detox is unrealistic, there will be the opportunity to manage their addiction, by using methadone for example, in the same way they could in the community.

To prevent these drugs falling into the wrong hands, they will be dispensed using £10,000 iris recognition scanners. Prisoners will then be expected to take their drugs inside an airlock to prevent them being smuggled.

There will also be more activities such as sport, work and education.

Mr Baker said: “It is far better for a prisoner to be busy and focused on what they are doing, instead of lying in bed thinking about drugs.

“We certainly will not be going soft on inmates. I have no qualms about dealing robustly with those who refuse to co-operate. But locking them up and throwing away the key simply isn't an option.

“These people have ended up in prison because they were unable to cope on the outside and, unless we want them to carry on offending, we have to address that.”

CASE STUDY

Lee, 25, is currently in Norwich prison for a violent offence. He has served two years, initially in Blundeston, and has 17 months left.

Before prison he regularly abused crack cocaine, cocaine and ecstasy and believes this habit is the main cause of his crimes.

After completing a 12-week drug rehabilitation programme, he now acts as a peer supporter for fellow prisoners attempting to kick their habits.

He said: “It got to the point where I wanted to change. I have kids and, when I get out, I want a normal life. You have to want to change but also you need the support.

“A lot of prisoners do want to turn their lives around but the opportunity isn't always there because there's so much pressure on resources.

“This wing should make sure that the help is available. It's still down to the individual to change.

“For me the real test for me will be staying off drugs when I get out. But in my own mind I'm determined to do that.

“I'm convinced that if I hadn't had that support, I would be back in trouble again and back inside.

“If this wing means more people have that chance, it's something that has to be welcomed.”

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