back to article Biometric methadone dispensers tested on UK lags

NEC is supplying the Prison Service with biometric methadone dispensers in up to 100 prisons. The machines will check prisoners' fingerprints or iris scans to access their medical record before dispensing the correct dose of methadone. The five year contract is starting with 72 prisons and began in December 2007. The deal is …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Recipie for trouble?

    So whats the liklihood of eyes being gouged out or fingers being chopped off to get some extra methadone via Iris scan or fingerprint scan?

  2. Adam Foxton

    see, now this is good biometrics

    Their fingerprints will be on file and checked to see if they've already had their allocated methadone this time. If so, they'll not dispense any more.

    If they want more, they'll have to find someone else on the fingerprint register. But then the second lot will be going cold turkey, so won't be too keen to help subvert the system.

    It doesn't track people, it doesn't require a full medical database lookup (just a common ID string so they can be matched to the main NHS DB if needed), and since anyone on Methadone's going to be a criminal anyway on drugs convictions (I'd assume) it doesn't need any extra additions.

    And £3.5m for 100 prisons- even at 1 unit per prison- is pretty good going for a new piece of tech + installation etc

    Theres always the risk that it's a pilot scheme for national biometrics databases

  3. dervheid

    How much?

    100 prisons.

    £3.5 million.

    £35k per unit (based on 1 per pokey) sounds unfeasably CHEAP considering the tech level and how well armoured these devices are going to need to be.

    (Can't you just imagine the jakey lag's reaction when "computer says No!")

    And as for "overseen by a pharmacist" you better add "and half a dozen of your burliest prison officers"

    Sounds more like a good application for RFID tagging!

    M.I.G. 'cause only a 'mad scientist' could come up with this one

  4. Ryan


    To put effort into scanning properly.

    Not like the Olympic 2012 builders who will just misuse it & complain until it is withdrawn.


  5. s. pam Silver badge

    So let me get this straight, that's £350k/prison

    and i can sit on me tod all day and dispense drugs eh? sheesh, that's better than a pukka job in Gordo's party of one gubmnt. where do i sign up, can i auction off fingers for extra credit and doses and sell on the black market via a PPP?

  6. RaelianWingnut
    Thumb Down

    What a Glorious Nation!

    What a brilliant idea. This will definitely solve the problem. Delivery of a medication that by all repute (and I've known more than one smack addict) is more addictive than the heroin addiction it's supposed to fix. By machine. Still, I guess the machine can take any amount of whining and physical abuse.

    It's a little like that attempt to screw with people's opiate receptors so they *can't* get addicted, disregarding the fact that this interferes with a basic neurelogical function. I've not heard much more about that. I wonder why.

    I guess it all helps to whitewash the fact that the legislature response to drugs appears to generate most if not all of the problems it's supposedly intended to fix.

    Short, sharp, shock. The, uh, *smack* of firm government. Wankers.

  7. Ash
    Thumb Down


    When did a prison stop being a place of punishment for crime and start being a holiday resort with free drugs?

  8. Steve

    @ s. pam

    Start Button, Run..., calc, 3500000 / 100 = ?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Adam Foxton

    most methodone users are in for robbery to be honest mate. as someone who was 'lucky' enough to spend a year in europe's biggest jail (hmp liverpool) i can safely say that the vast majority of 'lags' are in fact smack heads in for theft in some form. maybe thats just the nature of 'thieving scousers' but a fair few in there are from manchester too - but a lot of them were more violent crims

    meth @ prison will certainly help them stay calmer :)

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    >Since anyone on Methadone's going to be a criminal anyway

    Why don't we just lock 'em up in closely observed solitary for a couple of weeks, until the shakes wear off? Cold turkey the buggers.

  11. Mark Milaszkiewicz
    Paris Hilton

    @s .pam - no its not £350k a prison

    3,500,000 / 100 = 35,000

    Paris, because she probably needs help working out basic maths!

  12. Spleen

    Life imitates art again

    There's a side-joke in an episode of Futurama where the characters walk past a junkie at a crack vending machine - obviously the spiral thing doesn't go all the way around and the baggie fails to drop, causing the junkie to bang on the machine shouting "Come on, don't hold out on me man!" Today's satire is tomorrow's reality.

    Anyway, I guess I've learnt another useful prison survival tip for prisons that haven't bought the Smack-o-Matic yet - feign a heroin addiction then trade your methadone allowance for smokes or shanks or skunks or whatever it is prisoners do when they're not writing their memoirs.

  13. Anonymously Deflowered
    Paris Hilton

    @s. pam

    Start -> Run



  14. Adam Foxton
    Thumb Up


    it's £35k for prisons, not £350k.

    And missing digits/gouged eyes are easily spotted, and would be revoked once noticed. So while there may be an upsurge in gougings for a week or two, they'll die down quite quickly as people realise it's pointless.

    Still think this is a good idea!

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    the overcrowding problem is solved!

    Paris never needed methadone in prison....

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @s. pam

    Urm, £35K, not £350K.

    Not a bad price, or Idea. About 2-3 times the cost of a despencing assistant for a year, so much cheaper in the long run, and without making mistakes (hopefully).

    As for worrying about them being well armoured, no more so that a control drug cabinet which they will have anyway.

    What I dont understand is why they are trying to play down biometric ID worrys. That is fine when you are talking about IDing school kids, but these people already have there fingerprints on just about every database going....

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    No criminal would ever

    ... think to fake a finger print biometric...

    Perish the thought, they're an honest decent upstanding lot...

    Besides, faking biometrics is impossible, and it's not like people leave fingerprints or their DNA all over the place.

    I'm still waiting for a re-inaction of that scene from "Minority Report" where Tom Cruise uses his old eye to get through security...

    Yup, this'll really work...

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    so much better then hiring two nurses per prison pharmacy and forcing the prisoner to take their dose there and then, instead of taking the dose back into the prison and trading it for something better.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    Coz then the the HMPS gets sued under human rights abuses bs.

    Junkies apparently have the right to stay junkes.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pete must be so happy

    In prison and still able to be off his tits.

  21. dervheid

    @ Spleen

    "feign a heroin addiction then trade your methadone allowance for smokes or shanks or skunks or whatever it is prisoners do when they're not writing their memoirs"


    Dah pharmacist (and screws) are dere to ensure dat you TAKE YOUR MEDICINE BEFORE YOU LEAVE, dumbass!

  22. Anonymous Coward

    What an utter waste of money!

    Just shoot the bastards. Job done.

  23. Andy Hards

    Shouldn't this be in RotM?

    Computers dosing up vulnerable members (sort of) of society. There could be anything in these machines. It'll be intersting to see what happens when they do break down though.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    White mice

    Anyone else see the similarity between this and behavioural research? Next they'll be getting the inmates to get through a maze first...

  25. jim parker


    they waited until you went straight

  26. Gordon

    it might work

    I'd say the majority of the people in prison are in for burglary or robbery, not drugs offences. That said, the majority of them committed the offence to pay for drugs.

    The addicts do need their drugs, it's a vital part of weening them off heroine.

  27. Steve

    @ Ash

    "When did a prison stop being a place of punishment for crime and start being a holiday resort with free drugs?"

    When the Daily Mail decided they needed to increase their circulation.

    Why are so many people under the impression that the purpose of the justice system is to punish people? The purpose is to protect the public - the punishment aspect is incidental. What possible benefit is there to society in locking someone up for a crime only to have them leave prison in exactly the same circumstances they entered.

    The money it costs to get someone off smack is far less than the cost of cleaning up after a smackhead. Would you complain we were wasting money by teaching them to read?

  28. Gavin Jamie

    How to take methadone

    The current situation in pharmacies (prison or not) is that the patient (punter/client/user whatever) turns up, is recognised by the staff who then pour out the correct volume of methadone - or possibly give a pre-prepared dose.

    The patient then drinks the dose under supervision. The official guidelines suggest engaging them in conversation afterwards to check they are not going to spit it out and sell it on (it does happen).

    This machine basically adds biometrics into the first stage of recognition. This may be an issue with large numbers of prisoners attending a pharmacy. Quite the need for an automatic dispenser to be attached is not clear but this is labour saving rather than process improving. The staff still need to supervise consumption and check that it has gone down the hatch.

    And a brief reply to Daily Mail readers - the current philosophy behind methadone is "harm reduction". i.e. they are not sticking dirty stuff in their veins and nicking car stereos. This philosophy changes roughly in line with solar cycles.

  29. Graham Marsden


    "When did a prison stop being a place of punishment for crime and start being a holiday resort with free drugs?"

    When people finally realised that all the "tough on criminals", "longer sentences deter criminals", "make prison so nasty that people will go straight rather than go to jail" BS was exactly that: *bullshit*.

    Try researching at the history of prisons and sentencing and see just how "successful" such things have been. Consider the phrase "Might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb" or the "Three strikes and you're in jail for 25 years" policy that resulted in people being jailed for nicking a slice of pizza. Note also that programmes such as the "Short Sharp Shock" and "Boot Camps" have been discontinued because they *didn't work*!

    Until people start realising this and stop thinking that "well it's common sense, isn't it" arguments hold as much value as "I heard it from a bloke at the pub" and we start dealing with the root problems of social deprivation and drug dependency that actually cause much of the crime we see today, things are not going to improve.

    Of course such things don't allow the Government and Opposition to make attention seeking grabs for the headlines with the failed rhetoric we've heard for the last few decades, but they do allow the Tabloids to make claims of "Prison Holiday Camps with Free Drugs"...

  30. Anonymous Coward


    If you think it's so fucking great in prison, why aren't you there, banging on the doors, begging to be let in?

    Oh. Yeah. That's right.

    Because it's actually fucking hideous nightmarish shit in prison, not remotely like the bullshit "holiday resort" that you accuse it of being but clearly don't actually believe for one second yourself.


  31. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters


    If the purpose of the justice system "is to protect the public" then it is doing a p***-poor job of it.

    Once the thieving b*****s get out of nick, they go straight back to breaking into cars/houses/old ladies' handbags so they can get the next fix, or the latest cartridge for their Nintendo DS paid for by their "unemployment" benefit.

    You get harsher punishment for not paying Council Tax, playing paintball with black guns(1) or watching tv without a licence than they do for breaking-and-entering, mugging and stealing cars.

    *And* the "villain"s rights seem more important than their victims'.

    (1) Under the wonderfully titled and thought-out "Violent Crime Reduction Bill", the penalty for having a "realistic imitation firearm" is actually harsher than the "punishment" handed out to some junkie with a gun or a knife who mugs and beats an old lady for her pension.

    Justice? Don't make me laugh. (Black heli 'cos I'm sure on the sh-1-t list for this one!)

  32. PaddyR

    dvd's ps3's wii's

    Yes prison is shit for the people who dont belong there (minor fraud, fine defaults, self defence and the like) but to most in the prison system, its a rite of passage, a badge of honour. I've heard a guy say he was going to use his time to get off smack (never did, probably easier to get hold of in there, one method of smuggling i heard of was killing a pidgeon/seagull and stuffing the carcass then tossing it over the wall).

    they should not have rights to stay wasted in there or play video games, they should have a grey wall to stare at and shit food.

    lets take the futurama idea a step further and re-label the suicide booths "Methadone Dispenser"

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    >actually fucking hideous nightmarish shit in prison

    But why is that? Isn't it actually like that because of the nut-jobs that are in there?

    If it were full of normal people then it'd be alright.

    In fact, it'd make quite good cheapo accomodation for people fresh out of uni who just want somewhere to sleep while they pay off their debt to society.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Methadone in prison

    A close associate (sounds criminal already) of mine went to prison for two weeks, and went from occasional recreational drug use to a full-blown heroin addiction (administered by the 'screws' in medical grade heroin shots over the first few days whilst suffering from the attendant depression on BEING LOCKED IN A TINY ROOM) to a 180ml a day methadone addiction by the end of the fortnight.

    Another close associate was once responsible for running a large prison service, and fought hard to improve and maintain sensible policies for prisoner welfare, including the provision of personal televisions (which SAVES money, since prisoners will fight over whether or not they wanna watch the Eastenders omnibus, requiring more staff and more healthcare), and toilets in cells (ending the wondrous practice of 'mucking out' or whatever the hell it was called (frustration makes me forgetful). People in prison have had their freedom taken away, and will go to tremendous lengths to try to feel 'normal' again. Which will never happen for some or most of them. For those who think that the Shawshank Redemption was overblown in its study of institutionalisation, think again. There are numerous cases of long-term prisoners who cannot adjust to life on the outside and who kill themselves on achieving their long-wished for freedom.

    Just because people (perhaps through no fault of their own) are in prison, or on drugs, does not mean they should be tortured by an inadequate and unfeeling system. For example, a great number of those in high security prisons are there for killing their spouses. These people are required to 'take their punishment', despite the fact that they are unlikely to reoffend, and little is done on the outside before their crimes to assist them with their problems (lack of local support networks, family contact etc).

    The methadone addict I mentioned was released after their fortnight inside with an astonishing drug addiction and battled by themselves for 20 years to break the addiction themselves, with no assistance from authorities or health practicioners, who believe that drug addicts and criminals have only themselves to blame.

    Personally, having dabbled with a wide variety of substances, and lived in deprived areas, I think that most of the addicts and criminals who society loves to put down could be well helped in other ways, through proper and sensible intervention of social services, counselling services, intervention in childhood for family problems, etc etc. A lot of people, in all walks of life, have no one to turn to, ever. That's why people go missing, despite 'loving families', it's why people take to petty crime, it's why people get hooked on drugs. Because noone will talk to them like they are real people, and that is the thing that needs to change. Not the denial of pastoral and medical care (and in some cases what amounts to basic human rights) to those in need, who are more numerous than you care to think.

    AC - well, cos, some of this information could be considered inflammatory.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    >fight over whether or not they wanna watch the Eastenders omnibus

    Of course they'll only fight over that if there's a telly at all.

    >Just because people (perhaps through no fault of their own) are in prison, or

    > on drugs does not mean they should be tortured by an inadequate and

    > unfeeling system.

    Who's fault is it then? If it's not theirs then it's obvious they shouldn't be there, but rare exceptions aside, it is their fault and they should be there.

    >tortured by an inadequate and unfeeling system

    Like by supplying them with dangerous drugs?

    Prisons in the UK perform two roles, one is to satisfy the need for revenge amongst the general population, without that, people are likely to get lynched. The other is rehabilitation, which might be better achieved in a different kind of establishment.

    But as a society we still want to know that those who hurt us, will get hurt back.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    dear jon(b)

    And if you don't give them any tv facilities, what does one (better to be impersonal) expect then? A happy world inside where everyone just works all the time, then lock up and sleep? Sure, that'll calm them right down and make everyone chilled and better.

    It's true that it's sometimes difficult to see why it's not someone's own fault that they're in prison. But with the exception of what I might call 'the criminally insane', most people just live their lives within the boundaries of what is considered acceptable within their own particular society. And what with the failure of social services and family structures, and the exclusion of some people from 'normal' society from a very young age, this often boils down to whether it can be justified to themselves.

    I personally don't believe that imprisonment should be about making the victims feel better, or helping society to believe that their problems are under lock and key. Revenge isn't a great thing, and rarely leads to good, no matter how it is dressed up as 'justice'. Indeed, the desire for 'revenge' is often detrimental to the victims of crimes and their families. Rehabilitation, the acceptance and understanding of people's specific problems and trying to address them in humanitarian ways, is far more important.

    It's true that some people (for example, big business frauds, toffs who organise coups) are better locked up, because it might teach them a lesson. Sex offenders (which also encompasses a great number of violent criminals) are also better put inside, because they have the impulse and opportunity to ruin the lives of many people. But even sex offenders might be said to have been failed by society - men unable to attempt normal sexual relationships because of familial abuse or exclusion often turn to sex offence, since they are aware of no other way to channel their desires.

    And I agree with you entirely, giving prisoners 'dangerous drugs' is a 'bad thing'. But for the common taxpayer (with whom I am most certainly not in agreement), they would prefer to dole out wholesale cost prescriptions than see prisoners undergo expensive drug rehabilitation programmes, which often require a complete breakdown of the user's social and philosophical framework in order to be effective.

    P.S. Many heroin addicts are in well paid jobs, as highly functioning members of society.

  37. Tim


    Considering it's about £40k a year to keep someone in prison (Note this value might just be another Daily mail shock figure) The machines seem cheap. Shame they're a bloody stupid idea.

    Drug screen everyone in prison monthly or weekly, and then you'll know if they're going cold turkey, give them a reduced sentence to snitch on the guard that smuggled the drugs in, problem solved. By the time the reduced sentence ends the ex-prisoner should have gone cold turkey anyway, so he's clean. None of this Methadone rubbish, what good does it do? sustains the period they're addicted for while reducing some suffering. They're in prison for causing suffering, what goes around comes around, if it's really medically bad a doctor can still perscribe it, dishing it out to everyone isn't helping.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @dear jon(b) - Anonymous Cow(ard)

    >A happy world inside

    Oh sorry, I didn't realise that happiness was the optimum state of a place of punishment. Heaven forfend that there should be sadness in prison.

    >'the criminally insane'

    Should be in a mental institution rather than prison, but I think I know what you mean by that.

    >Revenge isn't a great thing

    This is the nub of any argument over prisions - the dual purpose. No revenge isn't nice, but when people are hurt they do want it, and if they don't get it then they stop believing in the judicial system.

    >Sex offenders

    Interesting view given your opinion on punishment vs rehab, since sex offenders have a low re-offending rate. Of course for them prison is a terrifying experience.

    >expensive drug rehabilitation programmes

    Lock 'em in solitary until they're off it - probably a couple of weeks, doesn't sound massively expensive. Unless the sentence is long enough for a methadone approach to work then all you're doing is sustaining the addiction until they're out again. It's true that their psychological makeup will mean that most will be back on it, but at least the physical addiction is broken.

    >P.S. Many heroin addicts are in well paid jobs, as highly functioning members of society.

    I don't see your point... You mean that if they come out of prison with a heroin addiction they could still be "highly functioning" members of society?

    That law abiding (and normally very well off) people can sustain an expensive drug habit without ending up in the slammer isn't really a suprise is it? Once they've got a criminal record and no money they would find it hard to function.

  39. Solomon Grundy

    The Only Successful Prison

    was a big island in the south pacific - sometimes known as Australia. Sure, it was tough going at first but eventually they got it sorted. So success!!!

    Now we will build on that success and send all future criminals to Australia where there is abundant room and the existing population can generally take care of itself. And you can always feed the really bad one's to the Abo's. Ha. I'll take my new position as Minister of Reeducation any time now.

  40. Rich

    Why not unlimited Methadone

    or Heroin, Valium, whatever. Cut the prison population in no time.

  41. chris

    WHAT !!!??? it's a prison for chrisakes!


    make them go cold turkey

    and tough it out.

    These are nasty villians, not the knitting circle....

    Also, breaks some rocks for the rent please

    (medical man - no sympathy for evil villians costing more than treating sick people to lock up)

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