‘Whole-system approach’ needed to tackle prison drug deaths

The prevention of deaths in custody and after release needs to be ‘central to all work on substance misuse in the criminal justice system’, according to a report from the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody (IAPDC) and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP). A whole-system approach is needed to prevent drug and alcohol-related deaths among prisoners and those released back into the community, with all government and agency work putting prevention of avoidable deaths ‘at its core’.

Prisoners experience feelings of hopelessness, boredom and desperation.

Levels of drug and alcohol use in the prison system are high, says the document, with the pandemic exacerbating the situation – prisoners are spending up to 23 hours a day in their cells, worsening feelings of ‘hopelessness, boredom and desperation’. People are at particular risk of a drug-related death in transition between prison and the community, it states, with just over 60 per cent of prison leavers failing to attend treatment appointments despite the high risk of relapse and overdose.

Better collaboration between health, criminal justice and community staff is needed to encourage continuity of treatment, the document states, with community drug and alcohol services properly resourced to ensure full coverage, reduce waiting times and divert more people into community treatment. More work is also needed to improve data on substance misuse in prison, it adds, as the scale of the problem is still not adequately documented or understood

‘Every substance-misuse related death in prison can and should be avoided,’ said chair of the RCGP’s Secure Environments Group Dr Jake Hard. ‘Our report highlights how such deaths can be prevented by increasing the opportunities for collaboration between government departments, prison staff and treatment providers, to ensure treatment and recovery is effectively managed throughout the criminal justice pathway. It is not enough to simply focus on detection and disruption of drug supply – we must ensure every individual affected by drugs or alcohol within prison and on release has access to the same quality of treatment that would have been available to them in the community.’

Protecting lives: a cross-system approach to addressing alcohol and drug-related deaths within the criminal justice system at www.iapondeathsincustody.org  







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