Page last updated at 17:16 GMT, Friday, 5 December 2008

Jail drug use 'continues to fall'

Prisoners were most concerned about overcrowding

The number of prisoners who admit to using drugs while behind bars has continued to fall, a confidential survey has shown.

But the annual Scottish Prison Service (SPS) survey found the majority of prisoners had used illegal drugs in the 12 months before their arrest.

And half of inmates who responded to the survey claimed to have been drunk when they committed their offence.

Jail overcrowding was the biggest concern raised by prisoners.

The questionnaire, which was completed anonymously by almost two-thirds of Scotland's prisoners, offers a snapshot of life behind bars in the country's jails.

It showed half of the respondents were concerned over safety and privacy issues brought by overcrowding, while 60% believed overcrowding impacted on access to medical services.

The returns also suggested a longer-term trend showing a decline in reported drug use since the turn of the decade, and in particular self-reported drug use in the last month of a sentence.

Those who admitted having used illegal substances in prison has fallen from 58% in 2001 to 48% in 2008, while prisoners admitting to illegal drug use in the last month of their sentence has also fallen from 38% seven years ago to 26% this year.

Increasing problem

BBC Scotland's home affairs correspondent Reevel Alderson said: "This may, of course, reflect greater vigilance on the part of the prison authorities, particularly in visits areas.

"What is of greater concern is the extent to which offenders have used drugs in the year prior to their imprisonment - 69% had done so, with cannabis and cocaine the most commonly used."

The SPS said alcohol was an increasing problem for the prison population, with the 2005 survey showing four in 10 prisoners admitted to being drunk at the time of their offence compared with five in 10 this year.

More prisoners were also reporting problems with alcohol, with more than a third of those feeling guilty about it.

The SPS said prisoners continued to describe the atmosphere in prison and their relationships with staff in very positive terms.

The relationship with prison officers was assessed as 'okay' or better by more than 90% of respondents and 85% of respondents were "positive" about the atmosphere in their hall or dormitory.

Inmates were also questioned about literacy for the first time, with 13% admitting problems with reading and 16% with writing.

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