Drugs testing of inmates at Isle of Man Prison had to be suspended when it emerged it may not have been lawful to take samples.
Legislation has to be rushed through both branches of parliament on Tuesday to ensure testing could resume as soon as possible.
Home Affairs Minister Juan Watterson MHK told the House of Keys that the most effective way to test for controlled drugs or alcohol in custody is to take a urine sample.
Legal powers to require prisoners to submit to testing for drugs comes from section 19A of the Custody Act 1995 which was inserted into that Act by the Criminal Justice Act 2001. This empowers the taking of samples not classed as intimate.
But Mr Watterson said a routine review of the legal powers used revealed a gap in the law.
He said legal advice confirmed there was a question over whether the department had the power to test for drugs using urine samples because they are defined as intimate samples.
‘Upon receiving this advice, the prison ceased conducting tests for controlled drugs using urine samples to ensure there was no question as to whether it was acting within the law,’ he told the Keys.
‘Members will appreciate that had this information become known to prisoners before last week, there may have been an increasing temptation to smuggle drugs in or take risks in brewing hooch in the prison knowing that we would be unable to test for it.’
He urged members to vote to allow all stages of the Custody (Amendment) Bill 2013 to be read in one sitting ‘for the safety of prisoners and prison officers alike’.
The Bill clarifies the law to allow prison officers to take urine as well as non-intimate samples. It also allows breath samples to be taken to test for alcohol.
‘I believe both branches can send out a strong signal to the prison community over its stance on illicit substances in the prison, and the speedy progression of this Bill though both houses should serve to dissuade prisoners from taking unnecessary chances with their health.’
MHKs, informed of the gap in a law at a presentation last week, voted unanimously for the Bill to be given each of its three readings and it was then passed immediately to the Legislative Council sitting that same day.
Mr Watterson thanked the prison governor and staff for ‘seeing through a long summer in the hope this didn’t cause unnecessary difficulties’. He said he hoped the drugs testing programme would resume very shortly.’