N.H. prison system credits policy changes for decline in drug use

  • This 2016 photo shows the guard tower at the New Hampshire state prison in Concord. AP file

  • New Hampshire Department of Corrections reports a downward trend in substance abuse by inmates at state prisons over the past year. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The New Hampshire Department of Corrections says the number of inmates testing positive for illicit drugs has gradually dropped over the past year.

More than 20 percent of the total offender population – including those in the state’s three prisons, transitional housing units and secure psychiatric unit – had tested positive for drugs in fall 2016. Last month, the total percentage of positive tests dropped to just below 12 percent, the department said.

Corrections Commissioner William Wrenn told the Monitor this spring that prison staff were testing more because of an apparent increase in Suboxone in the correctional system. Suboxone is prescribed to help treat narcotics addictions, but is also used illicitly to get high.

While officials cited an increase in drug use as justification for a stricter visitation policy at state prisons, data compiled on those facilities alone revealed the percentage of inmates testing positive had hardly changed over five years – and, if anything, was dropping.

The department credits its new contraband detection dogs, stricter mailroom and visitation policies, and its drug treatment focus unit in Berlin as reasons for the decline in drug use. The prisons are planning to install full-body scanners, as well, to further enhance security.

“The introduction of drugs into prisons is a challenge faced by correctional institutions nationwide, and we are encouraged that our efforts to reduce the use of drugs in our prisons have shown positive results,” Wrenn said.