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Drug issues in prison

Information about the way that prisons deal with drugs in prison and what support there is for a person who arrives in prison with a drug addiction.

When a prisoner is first received into prison they will have to provide a urine sample to see if the person has any illegal drugs in their system. Drug or alcohol use and treatment is one of the factors that are be considered when the Sentence Management Panel are deciding where the prisoner will be placed.

Opiod addiction is recognised as a disaease requiring threapeutic intervention. For prisoners who are addicted to opioids, will be provided with an opioid substitution therapy program.

See r. 31—Corrections Regulations 2019 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

Use of drugs in prison

A prisoner’s use of drugs in prison is mostly treated as a criminal or disciplinary issue. Alcohol and other drugs of dependence are prohibited. It is an offence to take or use alcohol, drug of dependence or to possess an authorised substance. It is also an offence to use a drug of dependence that has been lawfully issued in a way that has not been prescribed or authorised.

Changes to policy that happened in October 2021, have changed drug testing procedures to strengthen compatability with human rights.

See r. 65—Corrections Regulations 2019 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

Random testing for drugs or alcohol

The prison manager (or governor) may direct a prisoner to submit to tests to determine whether the prisoner has used or consumed any alcohol, drug of dependence or Schedule 8 or 9 Poison under the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 (Vic).

From October 2021 the number of random tests made is reduced to 4 per cent of the prison population each month. The people to be tested are automatically randomly selected from the Prisoner Information Management System (PIMS).

Each month the prison population will be tested as follows:

  • 4 percent of the total prison population are randomly selected for a saliva test
  • 20 percent of those who have been identified as drug users (called Identified Drug Status) will be selected each month for a urine test, and
  • any prisoners who are suspected of using or trafficking an illicit substance will be tested.

Saliva testing

As urine testing is recognised as being an invasive procedure, saliva testing is now being used in men's and women's prisons as an alternative. Random tests are routinely done using saliva testing unless the prisoner has used drugs within the last 5 years, or has had an association with drugs.

There is no requirement for a person to be stripped searched during a saliva test.

Corrections Victoria has published a list of fact sheets to inform staff and prisoners about the new processes for searching. See Corrections Victoria.

Urine testing

Urine tests will be carried out if the prisoner has a history of drug use within the last 5 years or an association with drugs. A urine test will also be carried out if the prisoner's saliva sample gives a positive result.

A prisoner may be strip-searched in association with a urine test, but usually only if the prisoner has a history of hiding contraband or of tampering with or diluting a urine sample before. In order to comply with human rights obligations, the process of strip searching is more respectful of the person being searched.

Corrections Victoria has published a list of fact sheets to inform staff and prisoners about the new processes for searching. See Corrections Victoria.

Anecdotal reports suggest that prisoners seeking to get bleach (for sterilising needles) could be targeted for urine sampling.
It is a prison offence to refuse to provide a sample within 3 hours of being ordered to do so.

See:

Breath testing

The prison manager (governor) may order a person to submit to a breath test at any time if they have a suspicion that the person has consumed alcohol. The person who collects the breath sample must be properly trained and authorised.

If a prisoner refuses, they will be charged with an offence of disobeying a lawful order of an officer.

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If the saliva, breath or urine tests is positive

If the prisoner wants to dispute a positive reading, they can apply to have the test verified. They will have to pay for the cost of this themselves. If the second test gives a negative result, the prisoner will be reimbursed for this cost.

The prisoner may be charged with an offence.

Identified drug user classification

If the prisoner is found guilty of an alcohol or drug related offence while they are in prison they will be given the status of an Identified drug user (IDS). There are 3 different levels of this IDS status. Each time they are caught their status will increase.

To reduce this status the prisoner will have to complete an approved drug treatment program and comply with the other penalties and sanctions connected with their drug use.

Contact penalty

If a prisoner becomes identified as a drug user they will be ineligible to have contact visits for 3 months. If the prisoner is caught a second time, the ban on contact visits will be extended for 6 months. If they are caught a third time they will not be able to have these contact visits for 12 months.

Prisoners who are caught more than once will also be ineligible for special visit days with children for one or 2 months. This depends on the number of times they are caught.
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Visitors caught bringing drugs into prison

People who are caught trying to smuggle illicit drugs or alcohol into a prison will be apprehended and handed over to the police.

See 8. in 'Security in Correctional Management Standards for Men's Prisons in Victoria'—Corrections, Prisons & Parole—Standards for Prisoners and Offenders(opens in a new window)

If suspected drugs or alcohol is found in possession

Prison staff may also seize material that they suspect could be an illicit substance and send it to be tested by an authorised analyst.

See rr. 97, 98—Corrections Regulations 2019 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

Heroin addiction

Prisoners may continue to be treated if they arrive in prison and are already on a methadone or buprenorphine program. (Buprenorphine is a synthetic opioid that is used to treat opium addiction, some is injectable.) This is done to assist prisoners to reduce their drug use while they are in prison. Treatment helps to normalise the prisoner’s life and helps them to integrate into the prison community. It also minimises the use of illicit drugs and the associated risk of the spread of blood borne viruses through needle sharing.

The treatment is referred to as the Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) program.

If the prisoner is on one of these programs, they should let the Justice health worker know when they are first received into prison. The prisoner can access this program by applying through the health provider when they are initially being assessed.

Do prisoners have to be on an existing program?

There are 2 levels of treatment. The ‘Maintenance program’ is for prisoners who were already on a methadone program before they went to prison. The prisoner needs to let the health care provider know about this when they are received into the prison system.

The ‘Induction program’ allows eligible prisoners who are considered to be at high risk of opioid related harm in prison, or when they are released, to begin the OST program (for methadone only) while they are in prison.

Note: According to the Victorian Prison Opioid Substitution Therapy Program manual, prisoners will be assessed for eligibility and may be referred for assessment if:

  • the prisoner reports that they are addicted to drugs
  • staff observe that the prisoner looks drug affected
  • the prisoner tests positive for presence of opium in urine test
  • the prisoner has experienced non-fatal overdoses or
  • the prisoner has recently withdrawn from a methadone or while they were in police custody.

The prisoner will have to be assessed as being opioid dependent (as outlined in the DSM before they are able to participate in the OST program).

Whether the prisoner’s right to access reasonable health care extends to the right to enter the OST program has not yet been tested at law.

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Withdrawal from the OST program

Prisoners have been known to trade or sell their medications and staff supervising the program must follow strict protocols to prevent this from happening when the prisoners are taking their medication. Only one prisoner at a time is permitted to attend to receive their medication and they are searched and positively identified at this time.

Prisoners may be withdrawn from the program if they:

  • attempt to trade, sell or divert their medication (methadone, buprenorphrine or suboxone)
  • are caught using heroin or other drugs that have not been prescribed
  • do not follow the dosing protocols
  • miss 3 consecutive does
  • do not collect their medication when they are supposed to
  • are abusive to staff
  • fail to provide urine sample when required to do so.

More information

Legislation

Corrections Act 1986 (Vic)

  • s. 20(2)—duties of governor (for safe custody and welfare of the prisoners)
  • s. 29A—prisoners may be tested for drug or alcohol use
  • s. 47 (1)(b)-(h)—prisoners' rights to health care

See Corrections Act 1986 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

Corrections Regulations 2019 (Vic)

  • r. 31—determination of placement
  • r. 57—entry of property (prohibits drugs or alcohol in prison)
  • r. 65—prison offences
  • r. 97—taking samples of drugs or alcohol
  • r. 98—analysis of sample
  • r. 99—breath analysis

See Corrections Regulations 2019 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

Poisons Standard June 2019 (Cth)

  • Schedule 8—poisons (controlled drugs) medicines with strict legislative controls including opioid analgesics such as pethidine, morphine, OxyContin, methadone and buprenorphine
  • Schedule 9—poisons (prohibited substances) these include a list of illicit substances such as heroin, cannabis, synthetic cannabinoids and MDMA (ecstasy)

See Poisons Standard June 2019 (Cth)(opens in a new window).

Related pages

References

Corrections Victoria

Corrections have developed some fact sheets for staff and prisoners about changes to the way they will conduct searches from October 2021.

See Corrections, Prisons & Parole—Health care(opens in a new window).

For information about the practical application of the drug and alcohol treatment for addicts in prisons:

  • 23—Drug and alcohol treatment services

in Correctional Management Standards for Men's Prisons in Victoria, see Corrections, Prisons & Parole—Standards for Prisoners and Offenders(opens in a new window).

See also Corrections, Prisons & Parole—Corrections Alcohol and Drug Strategy 2015(opens in a new window).

Prisoner law

  • Drug and alcohol testing

See Prison law.org(opens in a new window)

The Law Handbook

Fitzroy Legal Service's Law Handbook has the following information about the rights of people in prison.

See Imprisonment and prisoner rights(opens in a new window).

Deputy Commissioner's Instructions

The following instructions from the Deputy Commissioner may be relevant:

  • DCI 1.05 Searches and patrols
  • DCI 4.13 Opioid substitution therapy program
  • DCI 3.10 Programs designed to reduce offending behaviour—Detection and testing – Drug and alcohol use
  • DCI 3.09 Programs designed to reduce offending behaviour—Substance deterrence and treatment.

To access these documents see Deputy Commissioner's Instructions.

Updated