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HM Prisons and Probation Service (HMPPS) in its Prisons Drugs Strategy, April 2019, described the misuse of drugs in prison as “one of the biggest challenges facing our criminal justice system today”.

The law in England and Wales currently allows for mandatory drugs testing in prisons. Prisons Minister, Lucy Frazer, has said that drug testing is a “crucial part” of the strategy as it provides “robust evidence on the prevalence of drug misuse and can be used to support security measures, identify and signpost into drug treatment, monitor treatment compliance and act as an incentive to engage in treatment and recovery”.

Issues have been identified with the current legislation which provides for drug testing in prisons. The chemical composition of psychoactive substances is subject to rapid change. New psychoactive substances are often created with slight alterations to the chemical make-up of existing psychoactive substances. Currently, where the chemical composition of a psychoactive substance is changed, a change in the law to include that new substance is required. Amending the law for each new substance is time-consuming and can cause delays in detection.

Another issue with the law on drugs testing in prisons is that not all prescription and pharmacy medicines are included in the list of specified drugs prisons can test for. Also, there is currently no legislative basis for prevalence testing, an anonymised process to help identify any new substances being found routinely.

The Bill seeks to address these issues. It would

  • Amend the provision that allows for mandatory drug testing in prisons so that it uses the generic definition of a psychoactive substance from the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, thereby removing the need for repeated changes to the law for newly identified substances to be individually added;
  • Create powers for testing of prisoners for prescription only and pharmacy medicines; and
  • Set out a statutory framework for prevalence testing.

The Bill extends to England and Wales only. It would come into force on a date to be appointed by the Secretary of State.

Documents to download

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