Two-thirds of jail inmates may be on drugs, says report

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Series Details Vol.7, No.32, 6.9.01, p6
Publication Date 06/09/2001
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Date: 06/09/01

By John Shelley

UP to 70% of inmates, many of them women, regularly abuse drugs while in EU prisons, according to a new report.

The picture varies widely from state-to-state, but Portugal appears to have the worst problem according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and

Drug Addiction. The Lisbon-based group says at least 38% and possibly up to 70% of prisoners in the country are using drugs behind bars.

In Sweden almost half of inmates are estimated to be drug takers (47%) and in Ireland between 30% and 52% are addicts. It is impossible to establish accurate figures, say the paper's authors, because of the secrecy in which prisoners obtain and take illegal substances.

Austria is thought to have the lowest proportion of drug users in prison with between 10% and 20% of offenders. Germany, Italy and the UK also have comparatively low levels.

Across the EU, drug use among women prisoners is particularly high, with up to two-thirds having a history of severe drug or alcohol abuse prior to imprisonment.

The report says that drug abuse among the Union's 350,000 prison population is one of the biggest problems facing Europe's penal systems.

And it claims a lack of health care for inmates and poor prison hygiene means soaring drug abuse could pose a threat to the wider population: prisoners using dirty needles to inject substances are contributing to the spread of diseases, including HIV, beyond prison walls, the authors say. "Although the United Nations has stated that persons deprived of liberty retain all other rights and most countries are signatories to this convention, the realities of prison life, and death, are grim," they add. "Disease transmission in prison and the impact on the general community provides ample reason to consider the public health implications of incarceration."

The EU-finded centre criticises the help that drug addicts get in prisons, saying too many are expected to beat their addictions by themselves. "Contrary to new detoxification therapeutic standards, addicts in many European prisons are still subject to 'cold turkey' - immediate reduction of the dosage to zero - upon incarceration," says the report.

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