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Drug use in prisons: Data collection procedures

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Author: Fadil Pedic

Resource Type: Technical Reports

NDARC Technical Report No. 7 (1990)


This report reviews potential sources of data that might be of interest to the National Drug Abuse Data System (NDADS) with regard to drug use in prisons. Information which is presently collected in the various jurisdictions is listed and the feasi­bility of further and more detailed collection is examined. Recommendations are then made re­garding future prison data collection.

Consultation with corrective services and drug/ alcohol authorities in all jurisdictions forms the basis of the information presented in this report. Published and unpublished reports of prisoner surveys guided the recommendations made in the report with regard to data collection methodol­ogy.

The recommended data collection system per­taining to prisons consists of a self-report survey to be carried out either while offenders are in remand, or during reception, and the collation of a data form to be completed bi-annually by prison medical and drug/alcohol staff. The self-report survey would collect data related to the involve­ment of drugs in crime and, if feasible, drug use in prison. The essential issue for NDADS, however, is the number and types of individuals who are likely to need treatment for drug/alcohol prob­lems in prison. The survey should therefore focus on collecting data while individuals are in remand or prior to incarceration in order to assess the size of the drug/alcohol problem in gaols.

The proposed surveys would be conducted in all jurisdictions, with data collated at State/Territory levels, through face-to-face interviews regarding substance use a week or month prior to incarcera­tion. Interviewers must either be especially trained for this task or be experienced prison drug/alco­hol counsellors. The Short Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test (MAST) could be used in assess­ing alcohol problems, while questionnaires previ­ously used with prison populations may be adapted to assess other drug problems.

The proposed data collection form would consist only of aggregate figures on the number of prison­ ers who (in the last six months): commenced methadone; received methadone prior to incar­ ceration; received drug free counselling; received residential treatment; died due to drug/alcohol problems; tested HIV+ on reception; and tested HIV+ on discharge. The form would be com­pleted twice annually by prison medical staff or by drug/alcohol staff and would enable the colla­tion of these data at either the federal or State/ Territory level. The information could then be fed back to the prison or the jurisdictional drug/ alcohol authority to be used in allocating funds and/or staff for prison-based drug and alcohol problems.