Blair Gibbs

The drug infestation in our prisons

The drug infestation in our prisons
Text settings

Despite the focus on the government’s controversial plans to reduce the prison population, the troubled Prison Service continues to cause headaches for Ministers in another way — by failing to get on top of the security problems plaguing the estate In the 1990s, when Michael Howard was in Ken Clarke’s position, the concern of ministers was escaping inmates. The Prison Service has made huge strides on this, despite ongoing issues with the open prison estate and day-release of some inmates. But now the ever-present problem is lax internal security and especially drug-infestation. The jailing this week, for two years, of a prison officer based at Feltham Young Offenders Institution is just one example of the problem.

As Channel 4 News reports tonight, we obtained — through a Freedom of Information request — an internal assessment of the prison drug problem which casts new light on the issue. The document admits that:

“Research consistently indicates that the most common types of staff corruption are the trafficking of drugs and mobile phones and that the scale of the threat is considerable…

...Reducing prison drug supply is a constant battle. As one route is closed, it does not take long for another to open.”

our own research

“There is growing evidence of carefully organised attempts to traffic drugs into prisons, with great efforts made by criminals to overcome improved security measures in order to exploit the potential profits to be made in doing so.”

“[T]hree tablespoons’ worth of heroin (3 ounces/84 grams) — a quantity that could easily be concealed in a prisoner or visitor’s body cavities — equates to around 1000 doses: this amount is sufficient to sustain the illegal drugs trade in a prison for around a month”

“The unpalatable but inevitable conclusion is that corrupt staff constitutes a significant supply route for drugs into prisons.”

The Ministry of Justice is committed to “drug-free wings” — a concept the public find baffling, and hardly a sign of real ambition. Surely all prisons should be free of drugs? Reassuringly, in response to the disclosure, the new head of the Prison Service, Michael Spurr, was not defensive and resolved to give the issue the attention it deserves: “I am absolutely clear there are corrupt staff; I am absolutely clear we have to tackle that and not pretend it doesn't exist.”

We need to learn from other countries that have tackled this problem because, if we don't, there is no hope of creating the more purposeful prison service that will deliver the Coalition Government’s laudable rehabilitation drive. You cannot have drug-free, employable, ex-prisoners while you have drug infested prisons.

Blair Gibbs is the Head of Crime & Justice at the think-tank Policy Exchange