Nicola Sturgeon promises second referendum by end of 2023
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During the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown restrictions in Scotland, around 7,600 inmates were issued a mobile phone by the Scottish Government. However, it later emerged these phones, which cost the taxpayer an estimated £3 million, have been used for drug deals and other criminal activity.
According to the Scottish Prison Service, 728 phones given to prisoners have been found since August 2020 to operate with illegal SIM cards, used for drug deals and other criminal activity.
Ms Sturgeon defended the decision to give out phones to prisoners in an interview.
She said: “We created a different way for prisoners to have contact with their families, in some cases with their children.”
But the First Minister also admitted she was not aware the phones had been tampered with.
She added: “If you want to give me evidence of phones that have been tampered with, and I will absolutely look at that.”
Social media users reacted to the interview with ITV, who uncovered the tampered phones, to condemn the First Minister.
One user said: “’To be Frank’, another car crash interview. It defies belief that she has a reputation as a great communicator.”
Another added: “Same old trotted lines ‘I am not aware of the specifics….. I am not going to sit here and defend’ but she always does…
“This is tiring. Drug deaths are not a scandal- it’s a failure of epic proportions resulting in over 1k families, kids, parents grieving unnecessarily.”
Speaking to ITV, Ms Sturgeon acknowledged prisoners have been let down, and admitted drugs and post-prison rehabilitation are problem areas the Scottish government is investing in.
She said: “If you’re going to sit there and expect me to say ‘no, we can’t do better,’ then you’re going to be disappointed because I think, and I’ve said it to you and to others before, not because we don’t care and haven’t tried, but we haven’t got it right in every respect on drugs, which is why we’ve got the scandal of drugs deaths being at the level they are.”
John McTavish, Prison Officer at HMP Barlinnie, estimated about a third of phones have been tampered with.
He said: “I checked the phones in one of the halls here in March time, and of the 300 prisoners that were there, it was probably about 100 phones tampered with altogether.”
Barlinnie is now focusing on treating drug addiction, therefore reducing the demand for illegal substances.
The prison features the charity-run Sisco Recovery Cafe, where inmates talk each other through recovery and prison life with no prison officers allowed in the room.
In a statement, the Scottish Prison Service said: “A wide range of interventions and supports are available for those in our care to address the problem of addiction. Prisons reflect the problems of our wider society and many entering our prisons have long standing addictions and dependency issues.
“We try to work with those in custody to encourage them to recognise the problems that they have and to provide support counselling and medical help for those addictions.
“It remains the case that those who continue to make money out of human misery will attempt to traffic drugs into our prisons, by the use of technology, intelligence and partnership working with other agencies we will work to stop them.”
Data released in July from the National Records of Scotland (NRS) showed 2020 had the highest number of drug-related deaths in the country since records began in 1996.
Scotland recorded 1,339 in 2020, up 75 from 2019’s 1,264, with 63 percent of 2020 deaths being people aged between 35 and 54.
After adjusting for age, men were 2.7 times as likely to have a drug-related death than women.
Ms Sturgeon called the figures “unacceptable”, and said every life lost to drugs is a “human tragedy”.
Douglas Ross, Scottish Conservatives leader, hit back on Twitter: “You’ve had 14 years. Drug deaths have hit new records every year you’ve been First Minister.
“These pitiful excuses about ‘predating actions’ are a disgrace.
“Stop the political spin with these awful figures and take the necessary drastic action.”
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