"Main gate to the HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs in London, England, Great Britain" by Chmee2 / CC BY-SA 3.0">

Tackling Drug Use in Prisons

What is the issue?

Drug use within prisons in England and Wales has been steadily increasing, posing a safety risk for both prisoners and staff alike. Drug use can contribute to violence towards self and others as well as to crime within prisons, undermining prison security, affecting prisoners physical and mental health, and lowering a person’s chance at successful rehabilitation upon release.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and His Majesty’s Prisons and Probation Service (HMPPS) have commissioned a research programme to tackle drug use in prisons. Within this research programme, there is a focus on evaluating two interventions:

  • Drug testing regimens, either mandatory or voluntary, which are interventions meant to deter the use of drugs in prisons as well as identify prisoners in need of drug treatment; and
  • Incentivised substance free living (ISFL) wings, which constitute a relatively new approach to tackling drug use and supporting addiction recovery, and which are designated areas of prisons where prisoners can receive support and treatment to live substance-free.

Little is known about the impact and effectiveness of drug testing regimens on deterring and lowering drug use in prisons. Similarly, little is known as to whether ISFL wings can effectively reduce drug use and if they do reduce drug use, how it is achieved.

How are we helping?

The MoJ and HMPPS jointly commissioned RAND Europe to conduct a research study to examine and evaluate how drug testing regimens and ISFL wings are implemented in prisons in England and Wales. The research team has developed three research strands to better understand the issues at hand:

  • In Strand 1, the research team will take a case study approach to three prisons and capture the lived experience of prisoners and prison staff to understand how drug testing regimens and ISFL wings are perceived and experienced.
  • In Strand 2, the research team will conduct a process evaluation of drug testing regimens in six prisons to understand the barriers, challenges and required staff resources to implement different drug testing regimens and what factors contribute to prisoners accessing support.
  • In Strand 3, the research team will conduct a process evaluation of an ISFL wings trial that will be conducted in approximately four prisons.

This study will fill important gaps in the existing understanding of the implementation of drug testing regimes and ISFL wings in prisons.