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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 October, 2004, 13:16 GMT 14:16 UK
Minister pledges drugs crackdown
CCTV footage
Visitors are smuggling drugs to prisoners
Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson has pledged to tackle the death and misery caused by drugs in Scotland.

Her vow follows an admission by staff at one of Scotland's toughest jails that they are losing the battle against drug smugglers.

Official figures show almost a quarter of the 700 prisoners in Edinburgh's Saughton prison use illegal drugs.

Heroin is only a phone call away for inmates, the BBC's Frontline Scotland programme has been told.

Drug-taking in Saughton is reported to be above average for a Scottish jail, but some inmates said it was as high as 70% among fellow prisoners.

Prison officials have been fighting a constant battle to stamp out drug smuggling, which happens largely through open visits.

Drugs have also been hidden in vehicles and even thrown into the jail in a tennis ball.

Norrie Cockburn
Norrie Cockburn: "It's big business inside"
Ms Jamieson said the Scottish Executive was determined to deal with drug misuse.

"There are problems in our prisons and problems in our communities," she said.

"We need a joined-up approach to this and that is why the executive has been spending a considerable amount of time looking at this.

"I'll be having a debate in parliament and making some announcements in due course."

Norrie Cockburn manages a hall where inmates taking drugs are sent as punishment, with an incentive to get clean and move to better accommodation.

'Tough stance'

Mr Cockburn said: "Your harder core drugs, heroin, cocaine, it's quite big business outside, so it's obviously going to be big business inside.

"Obviously a perfect world would be prisoners without drugs, then we could get down to real work with them, but you'd have to say that if the drugs are in the hall then they will probably be a bit quieter."

However, prison governor David Croft said he believed it was an achievement that only 20% of prisoners who leave the jail still have drugs in their system.

He said: "Without exception action is taken against everyone who is found to take drugs, action is taken against everyone who is found to take in drugs."

Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson
Cathy Jamieson said she will debate the issue in parliament

The Scottish Prison Service said that as long as drugs remain a problem in society, prisons will also face similar difficulties.

A spokesman said: "Because of the tough stance on drug crime, the problem is even more concentrated within prisons than in the community.

"The SPS is vigilant about security using modern technology, drug sniffing dogs and intelligence measures to prevent the introduction of drugs into prison.

"However, 100% security is impossible without infringing human rights and preventing the maintenance of reasonable family links.

"Recognising that drug addiction is a community problem, SPS works in partnership with 'Scotland Against Drugs' and a variety of community agencies to provide throughcare for addicts."

It becomes a matter of containment, rather than taking frontline action
Bob Shewan
Association of Visiting Committees for Scottish Prisons
The spokesman said the executive has provided significant resources to tackle the problem.

Bob Shewan, convener of the Association of Visiting Committees for Scottish Prisons, said some jails had seen drug problems among new admissions at rates of more than 90%.

He told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme: "The large problem for our prisons in Scotland is that they are so overcrowded that it becomes a matter of containment, rather than taking frontline action all the time on these major issues."

Conservative justice spokeswoman Annabel Goldie urged the executive to adopt a zero tolerance policy on drugs.

The MSP said: "Quite clearly what we've got is an endemic problem which the executive is failing to address and that is simply going to compound, it is going to get worse because we've got this vicious, insidious cycle of repeat behaviour."

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