It said the scale of the problem is “significant” and has become more challenging in recent years, exacerbated by the emergence of psychoactive substances.
The strategy paper, jointly prepared by the Ministry of Justice and HM Prison and Probation Service, said: “The misuse of drugs in prison is one of the biggest challenges facing our criminal justice system today.
The document shows that, between 2012/13 and 2017/18, the rate of positive random tests for “traditional” drugs in jails increased by 50%, from 7% to 10.6%.
The paper said: “Drug use in prisons is now widespread, particularly in male local and category C prisons.
“The emergence of psychoactive substances such as synthetic cannabinoids has exacerbated the problem, and these are often used in conjunction with other drugs, while we remain aware of problems with the diversion and misuse of prescription medication.”
Staff have also been issued with detailed guidance on handling incoming mail following attempts to post drug-laced paper into jails. The ministry said its strategy centres around three objectives, restricting supply, reducing demand and building recovery.
Prisons Minister Rory Stewart said: “The threat drugs pose to the safety of prisons has never been greater and it requires a wide-ranging response.
“The Prison Drugs Strategy sets a clear direction for all those involved in reducing the impact of drugs in our jails.
“The potential benefits of this are huge, not only in the form of improved safety for officers and prisoners, but also in reduced re-offending and greater public safety.”
Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales said:
“I welcome this, it’s a really important strategy that, subject to resources, potentially brings clarity and common sense to a complex vexed issue.”