Plans to introduce mandatory drug testing in Scottish prisons from the start of January have been put back by at least a month to ensure officers are fully prepared to cope with the effects of the new regime. Prison rules and some legislation will have to be changed to allow sanctions against prisoners who test positive.

‘At the moment, for example. it would not be an offence to refuse a test.’ said a prison service spokesman. ‘lt’s about logistics and making sure the system is legally enforceable.‘ When random testing is introduced. probably in early February, 10 per cent of the prison population will be asked for a urine sample every month. The prison service says penalties for drug-users could range from restricting visits to adding up to 42 days to a prisoner’s sentence, but the spokesman stressed that the aim is to offer help rather than simply punish offenders.

However there are concerns that the scheme will lead to conflict in jails,

Jail drug-testing could light touch

with offenders more likely to be penalised than helped. One ex-prisoner, who was recently held on remand in Edinburgh’s Saughton prison, claims drug-testing will light the touchpaper in volatile jails. ‘They don’t know what they are letting themselves in for,’ he said. ‘Everyone is talking about it on the inside, and when they start putting people on closed visits or adding time to sentences, all hell is going to break loose.’

He also believes prison governors are unprepared for the level of drug-taking that will be uncovered by the tests. ‘To avoid trouble they will start by testing people they think aren’t using, but so many people use in prisons they will hit problems right away.’

The Scottish Prison Service insists the prisoners who are tested will be selected randomly by computer so there will be no chance of massaging the results. Rab MacCowan. deputy governor at HMP Saughton. said that the experience in England, where


= "s it . Saughton prison: pilot for mandatory testing

mandatory drug-testing has been in place for nearly a year, is encouraging. ‘They have had little in the way of problems,’ he said. ‘We certainly hope there won’t be trouble.’

Prisoners will benefit from the encouragement to come off drugs, he argued, adding: ‘It could be advantageous for them if they can show they have voluntarily taken part. as

paper, says ex-prisoner

evidence of responsibility. it could also reduce pressures on families who can become involved in paying for drugs, or for a prisoner’s debts.’

Prison charity SACRO has broadly welcomed the initiative but warns a heavy-handed approach to testing could compound problems. ‘It is important that enough resources are there to implement it, otherwise it might damage relationships between some prisoners and officers,’ said SACRO director John MacNeill. ‘A pragmatic approach would minimise the potential disruption. The two prisons named have an acknowledged problem and people should get help to tackle it.’

The testing will start in Saughton and Comton Vale women’s prison in Stirling, before being gradually phased in at other Scottish jails. Saughton was chosen because it has the longest- running prison drug reduction programme and is able to support drug users within the prison population. (Stephen Naysmith)

addressed in January 4

Around £500,000 is being spent on enhancing ltobert Burns’ Image at home and abroad In time for the bi- centenary of the Bard’s death next year. The organisers of the year-long festival have been criticised for being behind schedule, but director John Struthers point out that the main events will coincide with Burns’ death In July rather than the more traditionally celebrated birthday In danuary.

The full programme of event Is due to be launched on Burns’ flight, and will include a series of large-scale concert. Kllmarnock’s newly refurbished all-seater football ground is expected to be used for at least one of the concert.

Struthers admitted that the festival, which has been beset by teething troubles, had upset some hardcore Burns buffs who believed the planned programme was commercial exploitation of Scotland’s most fuses pest. ‘Wa’re selling Inrns’ nun and face, and ttuengb that pro-nth. his wnrh,’ said Strainers.

Register launched to restore public’s faith in charities

The first register of charities in Scotland was launched this week in an effort to prevent bogus and badly run organisations diverting donations from legitimate groups.

The register of nearly 25,000 charities has been set up by the Scottish Council for Voluntary organisations, following complaint about a group called Meningitis Scotland which claimed to be raising money for medical research. The two established meningitis charities operating in Scotland never received a penny and believe they lost out on donations due to public confusion.

‘0ne of the most darnaglng things which happened was that the press said there was no registered meningitis charity In Scotland,’ said

Alton MacAsIrIll of the Meningitis Research Foundation’s Scottish office. ‘Thls register will mean that It’s easy to check who Is operating In Scotland.’

Much of the confusion over charitable status t caused by the absence of a statutory regulatory body for charities In Scotland, as exists in England and Wales. SCVO has been pushing for such a body with powers to maintain a register of approved charities. But with no sign of the Scottish 0ffIce hedging on the issue, it has decided to set up It own register In an effort to Increase public accountability. The Scottish Charities 0iilce has powers to Investigate complaint about charities, as happened with Menlnlgitt Scotland,

but does not operate a list of ‘approved’ charities.

‘There’s no such thing as a “registered charity” In Scotland as there Is In England,’ said lacy Pratt of sum. “They are registered only for tax purposes and that register Is not updated, and Is not at all accurate. There’s a statutory vacuum which may activer encourage people who want to abuse the good name of charities to come to Scotland. The general public is very concerned about charities. If they are aware there might be a problem or it they don’t recognise the charity they want to ask someone before putting their hand In their pocket.’

SOV0 stresses that It has neither tire powers our resources to actively investigate charities which fail to register. (Eddie Gibb)

Information on the register and individual charities can be obtained from SCVU on 0131 556 3882.

Welfare charities are forging ahead

College Street. It will incorporate

Homeless hostel to open despite house cuts

with projects to aleviate the plight of the homeless, despite this week’s Scottish Office announcement of a 22 per cent the central government housing budget. The plans, denounced by Shelter and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations as the most savage cuts to housing expenditure for fifteen years. will result in a £59 million reduction of the total housing budget. Scottish Homes’ development programme will lose £40 million.

Housing charity Shelter hit back at the cuts, claiming that Scottish secretary Michael Forsyth’s announcement will add to the misery of the homeless. ‘These cuts will have more people in temporary accommodation leading to more homelessness,’ spokeswoman Tricia Marwick said.

Meanwhile The Big Issue is set to use its recent £500,000 lottery windfall to open a new building in Glasgow’s

facilities for vendors such as a health unit, group work rooms and a housing resettlement project, as well as becoming the new base for the magazine.

There are also plans to create a new 40-room hostel for homeless 18-25 year olds in Glasgow. The development, a joint venture between Glasgow City Council and housing charity Quarriers, will convert the Abbotsford Chalmers Church in Pollokshaws Road. ‘These developments are vital if society is to tackle the problem of youth homelessness.’ said Quarriers’ general director Gerald Lee.

While these plans will give respite to some of Scotland’s young homeless, with up to 1000 estimated to be sleeping rough each night, co- ordination between all the aid groups will have to improve for real progress

iiouslng cuts: Increasing misery for young

homeless in the long term, according to Shelter. But Marwick added: ‘lt would be extremely difficult to co-ordinate this kind of voluntary reSponse, particularly at Christmas.’ (Brian Donaldson)


4111c List 15 Dec 1995-11 Jan 1996