Each year some 140,000 inmates pass through British prisons, of whom as many as 70,000 have some form of addictive illness. They move from one environment in which drugs are both sustenance and currency while crime is the means to pay for it, to another in which exactly the same is the case - only with greater intensity.
Let's assume that each of these inmates procures just a single gram of heroin while inside; this would imply that 70 kilos of heroin are smuggled into prisons during that year. In fact, as any reasonably dispassionate professional would tell you, the quantities are far larger.
In the past, illegal drugs were brought into prison by visitors - and this continues to be the case. However, in the past decade or so, the use of sniffer dogs and searches has considerably constricted this flow, and the shortfall in supply has been made up by corrupt prison officers and other staff.
How do I know this? After all, the numbers of prison officers being convicted for drug smuggling are paltry. The then under-secretary for state with responsibility for prisons and probation, Crispin Blunt, was asked about this in Parliament as recently as March, and he replied that a total of 18 officers had been convicted since 2008. Unless we are to assume that these individuals were not simply mules but actual packhorses, we can only surmise that they represent a fraction of the total.
Perhaps the existence of groups of prison officers prepared to flout the law so egregiously should be seen, charitably, in this light: they have the unenviable task of dealing with Britain's ever increasing prison population, some of whom are potentially violent, the majority of whom are mentally ill; their pay may be adequate but it's hardly generous, while the roiling inmates - who are often confined to their cells for as much as 23 hours a day - quite obviously require some form of sedation, and are going to get it by any means necessary.
Actually, the attitude of my hypothetical corrupted prison officer isn't far removed from that of other professionals who work in the prison service: psychiatrists, doctors, and so-called drug workers who actively support the current widespread prescription of maintenance methadone or other psychoactive drugs as a "treatment" for addict inmates.
These people may be perfectly well-meaning, but whatever the arguments advanced for maintaining addicts on drugs, the fact remains that most professionals have no alternative, because it's all they know how to do. The prison doctor, doling out methadone to addict inmates, is not that far removed from the GP who hands out antidepressants to patients who feel themselves to be incarcerated in dead-end jobs, unemployment or failed marriages.
But in the past few years there has been something of a sea change in thinking; more and more people seem to be realising that the solution to drug problems may not, in fact, be more drugs. In the wider culture, the current Government has pushed for psychotherapy to be offered as an alternative to antidepressants; and within the prison system the message has begun to trickle down from on high that there are other options besides the oxymoronic practice of doping prisoners so that they won't want dope.
The first intensive, 12-step-based, complete abstinence programme was opened in 1992 in HMP Downview - I know, because I, in turn, wrote the first article on it to be published by a British newspaper. Now, 20 years on, there are some 14 of these programmes throughout the prison system.
The abstinence-based programmes, in conjunction with regular attendance at the anonymous fellowships, have allowed hundreds of addict and alcoholic offenders to achieve drug- and alcohol-free lifestyles, and upon release to become responsible and productive members of society. Yet as things stand, no more than 1 per cent of inmates are given the opportunity to attend these programmes, and of those that do the bureaucratic obstacles that stand in the way of their being able to depend on a drug-free environment, within which to complete their sentences once they have undergone treatment, remain formidable.
So, what should happen? Since our prisons are meant to be entirely drug- and alcohol-free, and we estimate that at least half of inmates are currently problem drug and alcohol users, the first thing, surely, is to ensure that at least half of these institutions are maintained in that state. If this were the case it would become possible to offer those addicts and alcoholics who receive a custodial sentence a genuine choice: either go to a prison which, to all intents and purposes, is organised as an intensive rehabilitory regime, or take your chances in those other jails that are subject to the arbitrary dictates of drug barons and corrupt staff. Choose addiction and more crime - or choose recovery and less recidivism.
This is an excerpt from The Longford Lecture, sponsored by 'The Daily Telegraph', to be delivered tonight at 6.30pm at Church House, Westminster. Tickets are free: email firstname.lastname@example.org before 3pm