Mike Trace 3 cropped

The issue of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) in prisons has made increasing headlines in the past 18 months, and for good reason. Last year, RAPt (the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust) released figures which showed a seven fold increase in the number of people in prison asking for help with NPS, also known as ‘legal highs’ or ‘spice’, compared to one year ago. Our frontline staff, based in 19 prisons across the country, recorded 87 prisoners seeking help around NPS in April – September 2014, compared to 622 in the same period in 2015 (1). Our serious incident reporting process also showed significant levels of violence and health problems as a result of NPS. In a three month period (April to June 2015) across nine prisons RAPt frontline staff reported 54 serious incidents that related to NPS (2). Nearly half resulted in a prisoner being admitted as a patient to prison healthcare or hospital; six incidents involved inmates acting violently and assaulting prison officers; and four incidents involved prisoners assaulting other prisoners.

We’re not the only ones to have found evidence about the increasing use, and associated dangers, of Spice – according to the National Offender Management Service, prison seizures of spice have increased from 15 in 2010 to around 737 reported in 2014 (3). Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) recently identified NPS as “the most serious threat to the safety and security of the prison system”.

The Government has, quite rightly, prioritised the development and piloting of new tests that can detect the most common forms of NPS, and security teams in prisons throughout the UK are doing an admirable job to try and stem the growing problem of people smuggling the drugs into prison in the first place.

But there’s only so much that testing and security checks can do to control what has clearly become a vibrant and profitable market. We have learnt through decades of experience of drug use and markets in prison that the key to undermining an established prison drug market is the integration of demand reduction initiatives with creative use of prison incentives, privileges and sanctions.

A good example of this integrated approach is dedicated drug recovery wings. These facilities combine security, drug testing and incentives to stay free from drugs, alongside intensive programmes that work with prisoners to challenge their patterns of drug use and offending, with the aim of staying drug free through the sentence and on release. Our aim is to maintain a dominant anti-drug culture amongst prisoners on a recovery wing, in which the peer pressure on the landings discourages drug use and dealing.

Over half of all prisoners in this country (55%) report committing offences connected to their drug taking, with the need for money to buy drugs most commonly cited (4). A period of imprisonment is an opportunity to break this cycle. Independent research shows that RAPt’s intensive rehabilitation treatment programme leads to a 20% reduction in the numbers of released prisoners re-offending, and a 65% reduction in overall number of offences (5). Despite the scale of the problem, less than 2% of drug or alcohol dependent prisoners have access to this proven rehabilitation treatment. Yet for every 100 people completing this programme an estimated £6.3million is saved on reduced crime and re-sentencing. Making the programme available to just 10% of drug or alcohol dependent prisoners would equate to potential savings of £440million a year.

Only a handful of prisons in the UK have drug recovery wings that incorporate intensive treatment – imagine how many more people, not to mention their loved ones and wider communities, could benefit if every prison had one.

Mike Trace, CEO, RAPt

1. NPS use is captured and recorded in the assessments conducted by RAPt staff on all new referrals to its prison-based substance misuse services. The figures from each of the prison services are collated on a quarterly basis to gain an overall picture of use of NPS by prisoners referred to RAPt.
2. These figures come from RAPt’s serious incident reporting process. A serious incident or serious untoward incident (SUI) is in general terms a severe adverse incident or near miss, with the potential to cause serious harm, either to a service user, other prisoner, member of staff (either prison or RAPt) or RAPt as an organisation. Where staff based in our service teams deem that an incident meets this criteria they complete a form with details of the incident, submit to our Governance Department. All incidents are then logged in a database.
3. Hansard, Written answers and statements, 21 October 2014 http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2014-09-26/209374 NB: Only data for the first seven months of 2014 is available and the total figure for 2014 of 737 is an estimate based on available data.
4. Ministry of Justice (2013). Gender differences in substance misuse and mental health amongst prisoners, London: Ministry of Justice.
5. Kopak, A. M., Dean, L. V., Proctor, S. L., Miller, L., & Hoffmann, N. G. (2014) ‘Effectiveness of the rehabilitation for addicted prisoners trust (RAPt) programme’, Journal of Substance Use, [Online] pp.1-8. Available from: doi:10.3109/14659891.2014.904938.

About RAPt
RAPt has accumulated over 20 years of experience in treating drug and alcohol dependence amongst offenders in the UK. We have always put great emphasis on conducting research and analysis to understand the nature of the problem, constantly review our services and measure our outcomes.

This experience and research analysis is now being brought together in a series of RAPt Policy and Research Briefings, the latest of which provides a comprehensive overview of the issues being faced by the prison system in relation to NPS.

For RAPt’s full briefing on new psychoactive substances visit www.rapt.org.uk/npsbriefing

For more information, please call 020 3752 5560.

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