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Prisons offer little or no support for inmates with alcohol problem

Almost 89% of prisoners with an alcohol problem got no help while behind bars last year, according to figures obtained by The Herald.

Despite alcohol being an aggravating factor in more than half of all homicides and much of the violent and anti-social crime which blights Scotland, a tiny proportion of inmates get specialist help while in jail.

According to the 2008 prisoner survey, much of the prison population has a problem with alcohol and some 49% said they were drunk at the time of their offence. However, figures released following a parliamentary question by Richard Baker, Labour’s justice spokesman, show that last year just 402 inmates completed a prison alcohol awareness programme, out of a total population of 7376.

Two of Scotland’s prisons, Dumfries and Kilmarnock, have no alcohol awareness programme and ministers have confirmed there are no plans to introduce them.

Politicians and academics have questioned whether prison is the best place for those whose criminal lifestyle is fuelled by addiction or whether they would be best served in community rehabilitation programmes.

Many inmates serve sentences of six months or less, making the provision of alcohol or other addiction programmes difficult to administer, and the prison service can only offer courses to those willing to participate. Recent research by Bill McKinlay, governor of Barlinnie Prison, and academics at Glasgow Caledonian University, found that 57% of young offenders blamed their offence on alcohol in 2007, compared to 30% in 1979.

Some 43% of the inmates interviewed in 2007 revealed they drank Buckfast immediately prior to their offence. The number blaming just drugs dropped from 21% in 1996 to 9% in 2007.

The Scottish Government has made tackling alcohol abuse and alcohol-related violence a key priority but some of their pledges, including minimum pricing, have already been mired in controversy.

Mr Baker said he believes Alcohol Treatment and Testing Orders (ATTOs) should be introduced to help address addiction problems. “(Justice Secretary) Kenny MacAskill keeps on talking about rehabilitation but, as these figures make clear, he is failing,” he said. “Only one in 10 prisoners receive the support they need to deal with alcohol problems and that needs to change.”

source: The Herald

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