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Use of illegal drugs in jail 'declining'

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CANTERBURY Prison has seen a fall in illegal drug use during the past 12 months but home-made "hooch" is still a problem.

The annual report by the prison's monitoring board to the Home Office has been made public for the first time since the early 1990s.

Members of the Independent Monitoring Board say they are unhappy with overcrowding at the jail in Longport. They blamed overspill from larger prisons for some problems.

A year ago 30 per cent of the jail's 300 inmates were foreign nationals, many of whom were deported at the end of their sentence.

The board had said it was too high and called for a reduction. This year they were pleased that the number of foreign prisoners has fallen to 15 per cent.

But the board wants this further reduced and wants more done to deport prisoners to their home country during sentence.

Morale among officers is low and the report blames long-term sickness but concludes: "Canterbury is still a decent prison but only because of committed staff's ability to make the best of an unsatisfactory situation."

Overcrowding has become a problem after years of being considered one of the least serious.

The report said: "Canterbury has changed from a local prison, mainly holding prisoners for local courts, to a different type of prison, where the aim is to focus on the training and eventual resettlement of Kent offenders who have been sentenced to terms of less than four years."

But the board, led by chairman Chris Gay, believes overcrowding has damaged the prison's aim to deal with offenders from Kent who have been sentenced to four years or less.

The report said: "Much to our dismay the stated aim of holding prisoners serving three years or less has been 'watered down' to a compromise of four years."

But it praised staff who were presented with the Lord Woolf Award last month for their pioneering work preparing prisoners for release.

Mr Gay thanked members of the board who had stepped down this year. He said: "We embark on a new reporting year with new blood together with a new office and new secretary."

He concluded: "We wish to see ex-Canterbury inmates given a better chance to lead less chaotic and criminal lives and the rest of us benefit as a consequence. This is surely a reasonable aspiration."

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