Prison population: substance use and wider support needs

Research into the substance use support needs of people in prison. One of four studies on the health needs of Scotland's prison population.

Chapter 7: Report limitations

There are several limitations to the findings of this needs assessment, some of which have resulted from the continuing Covid-19 pandemic. Face-to-face research was not possible during the timeframe of this project. This required taking an adapted approach using existing and secondary data and undertaking data collection through remote methods only.

Recent literature on this area is limited and there were time constraints on this project which necessitated a concise and rapid literature review.

Moreover, on account of Scottish Government Covid-19 restrictions on research, which prevented in-person/physical access to Scotland's prisons, this project was unable to conduct screening exercises typically associated with prison health needs assessment research and could only rely on existing prevalence data. The prevalence of substance use needs could not be confidently nor accurately estimated in this research due to the lack of available and robust data. In the absence of estimates generated from Scotland's prison population, it may still be useful to consider the prevalence reported in the UK prison research literature to inform the planning of services.

Whilst it was possible to use phone and videoconferencing technology to gather the views and insights of individuals with lived experience of problematic substance use in prison, access restrictions to prisons and competition for private rooms for remote interviews meant it was not possible to obtain direct input from women currently living in prison. Despite numerous efforts, it was also not possible to speak with any family members of individuals currently or recently living in a Scottish prison who experience problems with substances. Consultation with these two groups should be prioritised in future research studies.

The professional stakeholders who engaged with this project have become familiar and relaxed in their use of videoconferencing technology. However, conducting interviews online was a barrier for some individuals with lived experience living in the community due to lack of access to the necessary technology and data/Wi-Fi packages, and reliance was given to phone interviews instead. The research team recognises that in-person interviews might have enriched the interpersonal connection made with these individuals.

Finally, this report highlights the substantial service and workforce pressures experienced by those working to support people living in Scotland's prisons. Not all health professionals who wanted to engage with this needs assessment were able to due to pressures on clinical services and staffing problems exacerbated by the pandemic.



Back to top