The number of inmates taking NHS alcohol and drug treatment courses has plunged in just four years, Labour research claims tonight.
Experts believe enrolling prisons on programmes behind bars is vital to cutting reoffending.
But a Labour analysis of government figures shows 7,363 fewer schemes were started in 2019-20 than in 2015-16.
Numbers dropped from 60,254 to 52,891, according to the party – a fall of 12%.
The figures covered NHS treatment initiatives at high security, local, open or training prisons, youth offending institutions and immigration removal centres.
Meanwhile, the number of “mandatory random drug tests” carried out in jails rose by just 1.6% from 53,177 in 2015 to 54,047 in 2020.
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Positive drugs tests behind bars increased
Getty Images/Universal Images Gr)
However, the number of positive tests for “traditional drugs” rose from 3,680 to 5,492 over the same period – a surge of 49%.
In 2015, just 6.9% of drug tests were coming back positive.
But in 2020, one in 10 tests showed evidence of narcotic abuse.
Shadow Justice Minister Ellie Reeves said the Government “cannot be trusted to fix the explosion in prison drug abuse that it has created”.
She added: “Education programmes make prisoners less likely to reoffend.
Shadow Justice Minister Ellie Reeves
“The stark reality is that with fewer offenders taking these sorts of programmes, addiction will drive inmates to learn little more than greater criminality.
“The Government must urgently address the addiction crisis that is spiralling out of control and contributing to an endless cycle of reoffending.”
Howard League for Penal Reform director of campaigns Andrew Neilson said: “Successive governments have tried to tackle the scourge of drugs through security measures, but these figures show that impoverished regimes also contribute to problems in our overcrowded and failing prisons.
"The best way to reduce the supply of drugs into prisons is to reduce the demand for them in the first place.
Howard League for Penal Reform director of campaigns Andrew Neilson
“Staff time spent monitoring scanners would be better deployed in building relationships and making sure that people not only have access to drug treatment, but are occupied with education, training, work and exercise."
The Forward Trust, which works to help people “break the cycles of addiction or crime to move forward with their lives”, said there was “no doubt that more and sustained support is needed to help people experiencing addiction in prison turn their lives around”.
Policy director Sally Benton added: “Investment in addiction treatment, whether it be drugs, alcohol or gambling in prison, is money well spent with clear impact on reoffending rates and improved safety in prison.
“Reduction in prison addiction treatment over the last decade mirrors that in the community.”
A Prison Service spokeswoman claimed Labour’s “interpretation of the data is false”.
She said: “Reoffending rates are the lowest on record.
“All prisoners on arrival in custody have a full health screen for any substance misuse, as well as wider health issues, and are referred to a full range of high-quality treatment services as needed.”