IT would be impossible to make Isle of Man Prison completely clean of drugs, the governor has admitted.
Alison Gomme, speaking after allegations of routine abuse of prescribed medication on the wings at Jurby jail were made by a witness in a criminal trial last week, said procedures to combat drug trafficking within the prison, including testing and searches, were constantly reviewed.
She said: ‘The only way a prison system is ever going to be completely clean of drugs is if you hermetically seal it and not have any outside human contact whatsoever. We have got procedures in place and we constantly review our procedures.’
Giving evidence in the trial of a fellow inmate accused of assaulting him in a cell on Jurby jail’s A-wing in June last year, Craig Varey claimed he could not remember the attack because he had been too heavily medicated. ‘I just know I was trollied,’ he told the jury.
Retracting the statement he made to police after the assault, Varey claimed he had ‘taken a lot of drugs since I’ve been in prison’ and had been taking them every day until about six months ago.
He said in addition to being prescribed 60ml of Methadone, 40ml of Valium and 15ml of Zimmervane daily, he had bought other prescription drugs on the wing, included a couple of hundred milligrams of the painkiller Tramadol, which he said he would save up to take every couple of days, and 300-600mg a day of the synthetic opiate Pregabalin.
Varey, who the jury was not told is serving an eight-year jail term for inflicting grievous bodily harm on a young woman, said the combination of drugs could ‘lead you to thinking strange things’.
Asked how he would get the money to buy them, he replied: ‘From my account.’
Mrs Gomme said prisoners’ prescriptions was the responsiblity of the primary healthcare team team that work for the Department of Health. GPs would come in to the jail to prescibe medication and consultants would be on hand from the drug and alcohol team.
Certain prisoners are made to take certain types of prescribed medication in front of the healthcare team, she explained.
But she added; ‘Some prisoners are able to regurgitate their medication.
‘Of course these prescription drugs are not necessarily prescribed for the user. Things are brought into prison that may have been prescribed to someone else in the community. Drugs can also be purchased over the internet.’
Prison staff can search inmates and cells, while all visitors are checked for illegal substances.
Mandatory drug tests are carried out every month on the urine of 10 per cent of the prison population to test for both prescription and non-prescription drugs.
‘We have a target of no more than 10 per cent positive drug tests,’ she explained, adding that this target was met last month.
Replying to a Tynwald question in February, Home Affairs Minister Juan Watterson said the failure rate for this random testing had been more than 13 per cent in four of the past five years and 17.7 per cent in 2008-09.
He said that three prisoners had been found with unauthorised prescription medication that year, nine in 2011 and 10 the previous year.
Last year, a visitor was arrested at the gate after trying to smuggle in the prescription opioid Subutex to a prisoner - they were subsequently sentenced to six months custody for attempting to supply drugs to a prisoner.
Mrs Gomme pointed out: ‘We have a lot of people in for drug offences in prison. It’s been part of their lives for many years and it should come as no surprise that they should seek to continue this once in custody.’
She added: ‘We should not be too negative. We have had prisoners who have had a significant drug habit for whom drugs no longer feature in their lives.’
She said there was also an issue of prisoners’ welfare with the combination of prescription and unauthorised drugs having often unpredictable effects.
Three men are awaiting sentencing for the prison cell attack on Craig Varey. Having retracted his statement to police, a trial judge ordered the jury to formally deliver a not guilty verdict in the case of a fourth inmate, Gavin William Patterson, who had denied a charge of assault occasioning actually bodily harm in connection with the incident.
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