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Growing drugs problem at Hydebank youth prison in Northern Ireland

By Michael McHugh

Published 27/10/2016

Hydebank Wood College
Hydebank Wood College

Drugs are becoming more readily available at a young offenders' centre in Northern Ireland, an inspection has found.

Unpredictable and life-threatening new psychoactive substances which mimic the effects of cannabis, heroin or amphetamines are allegedly entering Hydebank Wood College. Synthetic cannabis not detected by normal drugs tests was also used, prisoners and staff told reviewers.

The supply is leading to bullying and intimidation, according to Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland.

However, the watchdog commended the NI Prison Service for delivering significant improvements in outcomes and greater emphasis on rehabilitation. It said: "Nevertheless, more young men than at our previous inspection told us they felt unsafe. Those we spoke to told us that the increased availability of drugs and concentrations of young men with very challenging behaviour were leading to bullying and intimidation. There were early signs that new psychoactive substances were entering the prison, further adding to safety concerns."

Hydebank houses young people aged 18-21 in Belfast and focuses on education and employment.

Official inspections of Hydebank and Ash House, Northern Ireland's women's prison, were conducted in May. The independent experts said work to address problems with drugs remained under-developed and needed to be urgently improved.

"In addition, violence reduction work needed to be more co-ordinated to ensure the challenges faced were better understood and effectively addressed."

It said initiatives to limit the drug supply were weak. "The young men and staff said drugs, including synthetic cannabis (a man-made drug that mimics the effects of cannabis) and illicit medication, were easily available. Random Mandatory Drug Testing (MDT) positive rates were not excessive but when refusals were included, it did point to significant concerns about the illicit use of drugs."

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