Criminal Justice Committee
Routine Photocopying of Prisoner Mail
Letter from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans to Russell Findlay MSP, 23 September 2021
Dear Mr Findlay
Thank you for your letter of 16 September seeking an update on the proposal to routinely photocopy prisoner’s general mail in order to mitigate against the risk of psychoactive substances entering the prison estate.
We are aware that drug misuse in Scottish Prisons has changed over the last few years, evolving from well-known and readily identifiable controlled substances such as heroin, cocaine, cannabis and prescribed medication(s). Whilst these are still a factor, the emergence of ‘novel’ psychoactive substances (PS) in 2018 has seen a significant shift in what drugs we believe are being used by those in our care.
As you rightly raised during the Committee session and Portfolios last week, there is emerging evidence that shows that this type of drug is being introduced through the use of paper sent through the mail system. I am advised by Teresa Medhurst, Interim Chief Executive of SPS, that preparatory work into exploring the implications of a change into how we conduct SPS mail processes is well underway. This work involves assessing the full impact, risk assessment, legal implications and operational requirements associated with a change in how individuals’ mail is handled.
Once an options appraisal has been reviewed, and an option endorsed the prison service will be in a better position to advise on the next steps with regards to mail handling. It is likely that this would require a legislative change to the Prison Rules. I have asked Teresa Medhurst to keep me updated on developments.
The Scottish Prison Service recognises the importance of providing a safe and secure environment for those in its care, as well as for the men and women who work in our prisons. As such, tackling the use of illicit drugs remains a priority for the prison service.
In addition to consideration of the above, the prison service have undertaken the following actions in response to this overall issue;
- Rapiscan machines, which specifically assist in detecting substances which may have been concealed in items of mail and personal property, are in use in every prison in Scotland and contingency plans are also in place should any machine break.
- Testing by Dundee University has found that Rapiscan equipment is particularly effective in detecting the presence of psychoactive substances and other substances. Work is ongoing with Rapiscan to ensure that when new strains of psychoactive substances are detected, then the machines can be updated to ensure they continue to be effective in drug identification. These machines have already proved successful in reducing the volume of contaminated paper entering prisons.
- The prison service continue to seek a range of innovative technological solutions in order to detect, deter and reduce the availability of contraband entering our prisons to ensure the safety of staff and those within its care.
- It is regrettable that, despite robust security processes, some individuals are ultimately successful in bypassing these. SPS and Police Scotland continue to work closely to share information to prevent the introduction of illicit substances and seek convictions where appropriate.
- SPS’ Strategy Framework for the Management of Substance Misuse in Custody reflects the aims and objectives of the Scottish Government's National Drug and Alcohol Strategies. It embraces the principles of recovery to reduce the harm caused by drug use.
- SPS has established a Drug and Alcohol Strategy Steering (DASS) group. It is a multi- agency group responsible for co-producing a revised Substance Misuse Strategy, which reflects the aims and objectives of Scottish Government's National Alcohol and Drug Treatment Strategy – Rights, Respect and Recovery.
- The DASS group monitor and analyse all management information and intelligence to provide a greater understanding of trends in drug use in Establishments in Scotland and this information will inform policy development.
- The strategy will focus on robust security systems to divert, disrupt, detect and deter the supply of illicit substances while creating an environment and culture which supports recovery for those with problematic drug use.
- The DASS will develop education packages for those in custody to reduce and prevent harm from drugs and alcohol in custody and in the community, and develop training for staff so they have the knowledge and skills to support those with drugs and alcohol problems.
In your correspondence you also note the issue of mobile phone tampering. As you and other Members of the Criminal Justice Committee will be aware, the provision of mobile phones, in the absence of in-person contact with loved-ones over sustained periods of time, has been vital in addressing the negative impacts of COVID-19 in our prisons for staff, prisoners and families impacted by imprisonment.
The Scottish Prison Service has been working throughout the pandemic with the mobile phone service provider identifying security issues as they arise and resolving them.
Once SPS became aware of illegal SIM cards entering prisons, a technological solution was identified that allowed them to blacklist handsets on various network providers which prevents them being used with another SIM. This approach has been employed since mid-July.
The actions the prison service took at pace to introduce mobile phones and access to video conferencing technical in the early months of the pandemic in order to maintain essential family contact, including with children have been widely welcomed by staff prisoners and stakeholders. The vast majority of the 10,370 phones issued have been used as intended with just over one million calls made to pre-approved numbers, including around ten thousand calls to the Samaritans service.
The prison service will continue to robustly monitor any illicit use of mobile phones and work with Police Scotland to deal with the issues appropriately.
I trust this update is helpful. I have also provided the Convener of the Criminal Justice Committee and HM Chief Inspector Prisons for Scotland with a copy of this response.