Thousands of positive drug tests in Dutch prisons, psych institutions

Police guard in a detention center
Police guard in a detention centerPhoto: Politie

Dutch prisons and psychiatric institutions where convicts undergo mandatory treatment are having trouble preventing drug use among their charges. Last year many thousands of drug tests came back positive and the use of cannabis and cocaine is increasing alarmingly, ANP reports based on urine test results the news wire requested from the Ministry of Security and Justice.

Cannabis is by far the most popular drug in prisons in the Netherlands. In a number of prisons, nearly half of the cannabis tests come back positive. Last year there were over 16,600 positive cannabis tests, compared to 14,500 in 2014. Over a thousand positive cannabis tests per prison is not uncommon. Psychiatric clinics Oostvaarder and Veldzict, the only two clinics for which figures were available, had a few hundred positive cannabis tests last year. As did several juvenile institutions, according to the news wire.

Positive cocaine tests in prisons increased from 1,000 in 2014 to 1,600 last year. Positive tests on opiates, like heroin, increased from almost 680 to 730. Prisoners are caught with ecstasy and amphetamine in their systems a few dozen times each year.

The actual drug use may be much higher. Not everyone is tested for drugs constantly. Drug tests happen randomly, or if there are indications of drug use. On the other hand, some positive tests may be from prisoners who used before being arrested or during their leave. 

This is the first time the Ministry of Security and Justice released such figures, according to the news wire. According to a Ministry spokesperson, drug use is not permitted and endangers safety at the institutions. "Improving control and safety measures has our continued attention. Addiction institutions have been called in to increase the knowledge and awareness of staff in dealing with drugs", the spokesperson said to ANP.

Trade union FNV Government is alarmed by these figures. The safety of prison staff is more at risk than ever with the increasing drug use among detainees, director Frans Carbo said to ANP. The unions already raised concerns about "a very worrying increase" of violence in prisons and psychiatric instutions, he points out. "This is another powerful signal that policy must be radical, so staff can again have a safe and healthy work environment. The budget cuts policy of recent years seriously jeopardized this." 

In May the Inspectorate for Security and Justice warned that the Netherlands' approach to fighting contraband in prisons is not effective. According to the inspectorate, prison employees don't have enough time to check for contraband and find it increasingly difficult to keep things like drugs and cellphones outside prison walls.