Drug Recovery Prison helping addicted inmates
A County Durham prison is spearheading a ground-breaking multi-million pounds initiative to stem the flow of drug abuse behind bars.
HMP Holme House has become the nation's first Drug Recovery Prison (DRP), with a twin focus on preventing drugs from entering the jail, while providing better support for prisoners who want to kick the habit.
It comes as latest prison statistics are expected make for very depressing reading, highlighting a significant increase in the availability of drugs like Spice.
The use of Spice in particular, developed as a synthetic alternative to cannabis, has reached epidemic proportions in most jails.
Sky News was given exclusive access to Holme House, as Justice Secretary David Gauke toured the category-C prison to see for himself the new system in operation.
The facility boasts the latest in scanner technology to help detect those smuggling in drugs and other contraband.
Mr Gauke was shown an x-ray image of one inmate, who'd tried to smuggle a mobile phone into the jail inside his body.
Specialist sniffer dogs and a dedicated drug search team are now also based at the prison full-time.
But detection of Spice has become the most difficult of the all the drugs to detect and inmates have adopted innovative ways of trying to smuggle it past prison staff.
The chemical can be sprayed onto bits of paper, which are then either posted to inmates as letters from loved ones, or ripped into smaller pieces and hidden inside someone's clothing.
Dion Lee, a long term inmate, who has spent the last 6 years in prison in the North East, has witnessed first-hand the way in which Spice use inside has reached epidemic proportions.
"Where there's a will, there's a way. People smuggle drugs all around the world, so smuggling it into a prison is no different.
"Spice is like crack, or heroin. But because it's so cheap it's everywhere, it's more freely available to people.
"It's a gateway drug into other drugs. You smoke it for a week or two and that's it, you're then looking for methadone, heroin, it's crack, it's whatever you can get hold of."
Staff at Holme House prison say they are beginning to notice a change in the few months since the facility transitioned to a Drugs Recovery Prison.
The number of drugs seizures has increased, as have the number of inmates willing to engage with drug rehabilitation programmes.
Prison officers said that last year, they were dealing with around a dozen Spice related overdoses a day at the prison.
That number has now fallen to around a three a day.
Initiative at HMP Holme House is a collaboration between the Ministry of Justice and the NHS, which has provided half the funding for the £9m pilot.
As well as clamping down on the availability of drugs in the jail, the strategy is also focussed on providing much better support for those inmates willing to participate in rehabilitation programmes.
A full time paramedic is based at the prison, as well as other health staff, including a specialist psychologist to deliver enhanced substance misuse services.
The Justice Secretary said: "Drugs fuel a cycle of violence and self-harm and prevent offenders from starting the process of rehabilitation that can ultimately lead to employment and a life free from crime.
"To break that cycle, we need an innovative approach. That's what this pilot offers – not only stopping drugs getting into prison, but helping offenders break the habit for good."
Dion Lee is acting as a mentor, offering fellow inmates advice and support, if they are interested in enrolling in one of the prison's drugs rehabilitation programmes.
He said that key to its success would be providing adequate support to offenders, to continue their rehabilitation on their release.
"If people in here have got the will to better themselves, if there's a decent lifestyle available for people when they get out, then I'm sure a good majority of them will try and improve their lifestyle.
"But if they're just getting out to a train ticket home and that's it, then there's no hope for them."
Prison authorities are confident the Holme House pilot will prove successful in a way that can be rolled out to other prisons across the country.
But the fear is that schemes like this will only have a marginal effect at best on issues of drug taking and prison violence.
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There may be a noticeable improvement, but this County Durham prison still has significant issues.
In the few hours Sky News was allowed inside this prison, staff dealt with half a dozen safety critical incidents, including one inmate who slashed his own throat in the showers and another, transferred in, who was found with a large quantity of drugs inside his body.