In the same week that legislation was passed prohibiting smoking in vehicles in which children are passengers, the government has recently also turned its attention to dealing with another form of potential mischief, the taking of so called legal highs whilst in prison.
Many will be aware of the strict drug testing regime employed in both private and publicly run prisons, which routinely tests prisoners for the presence in their system of commonly used illegal drugs, specifically, cannabis, amphetamine, cocaine and heroin. Over recent years, however, inmates have sought their highs in other ways in order to avoid detection, not least because failing a Mandatory Drugs Test (MDT) almost inevitably results in additional time spent in custody.
Just three months after the Mirror reported a massive increase in the use of Spice in our prisons (up from 15 cases in 2010 to 430 in the first seven months of 2014) the Guardian now reports that prison inspectors in Bristol, for example, have revealed that inmates were admitted to a local hospital on seven occasions over a six month period after having taken the legal high Spice.
Courts and Criminal Justice Bill
In light of this, and the associated research, the Courts and Criminal Justice Bill was passed by the Lords on Wednesday 21 January 2015. Provisions in this Bill will mean that the Government have the power to specify drugs (including so-called ‘legal highs’) which can be tested for as part of the MDT Programme. The Justice Secretary has this week stated that new guidelines are therefore to be issued to prison governors requiring them to expand the MDT regime to include testing for Spice and other ‘legal’ highs.
Those testing positive will therefore be subject to the same sanctions as those currently available including, as well as additional detention, closed visits, confinement to their cell, forfeiture of prison earnings and a loss of privileges.
Written by Tim McArdle of Olliers Solicitors