Prisons tackle alcohol abuse

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A MAJOR drive to tackle alcohol abuse among prisoners is being launched in prisons in the Lothians.

The £150,000 project will see full-time counsellors brought in to target thousands of prisoners at HMP Edinburgh and HMP Addiewell, whose heavy drinking has in many cases led to lengthy jail sentences.

The scheme aims to prevent inmates from returning to their communities and reoffending and will offer specialist one-to-one treatment sessions, unlike the current service.

The ability to continue treatment and support inmates after they have served their time is regarded as a significant improvement.

Much of the focus will be on those on remand at Saughton awaiting hearings or trials.

The prison population stands at around 900, although thousands pass through every year. Last year, Saughton referred 812 prisoners to addiction services.

Jamie Megaw, strategic planning manager at NHS Lothian, said: “Alcohol problems are much more prevalent amongst prisoners than the general population, so prison presents an opportunity to address alcohol issues. By continuing the service in the community, we hope to make a real difference to the quality of life for prison leavers and their families. It could make a contribution to cutting down the likelihood of their reoffending.”

As well as raising awareness of the harm caused by alcohol use, the service aims to enable prisoners to change their behaviour in relation to alcohol.

Extra funding for the project has been supplied by the Scottish Government, and will be spent on hiring four specialist counsellors for the two prisons.

In 2007, the McKinlay report into youth offending found 75 per cent of offenders were drunk when they committed crimes. The figure, for those aged between 16 and 21, had shot up from 47 per cent in 1979.

Colonel Clive Fairweather, former chief inspector of prisons for Scotland, said treatment for alcohol is crucial because of the clear link between alcohol and drug use inside jails.

He said: “Most people who are in prison are there because of alcohol-fuelled violence and crime. When I was inspecting prisons there wasn’t a huge amount done on alcohol abuse, and I remember saying we need to do far more to address this issue.

“Because [prisoners] can’t get alcohol in jail – it’s too bulky or difficult to make – they switch to drugs, so it goes some way to addressing that.

He added: “Although some members of the public will think this is quite namby pamby, if they are better able to handle alcohol when they come out, then someone isn’t going to get a bottle in their face or a knife in their stomach.”

The project begins in April.