The new justice minister David Gauke is due to make a major speech today regarding the crisis in our prisons and with particular reference to drugs. It won't tackle any of the underlying issues of course, but it's fascinating to see how the Prison Governors Association cite Chris Grayling's infamous Offender Rehabilitation Act as being routinely 'abused' by Organised Crime Gangs using recalled prisoners as drug 'mules'. Another example of the law of unintended consequences in relation to drug policy to go alongside that of Mandatory Drug Testing. Here's Alan Travis of the Guardian:-
Prisoners linked to gangs face being moved to tougher jails
Plan will recategorise prisoners into higher-security prisons if they have high criminality risk
More than 6,000 prisoners believed to have links to organised crime gangs face being moved to tougher jails under proposals to be unveiled by the justice secretary, David Gauke. The plans to recategorise prisoners into higher-security prisons based on their continuing risk of criminality in jail, rather than their original sentence, are to be outlined in Gauke’s first speech on tackling the prisons crisis in England and Wales.
The government is spending £14m on tackling organised criminal gangs in prisons, including on creating a serious organised crime unit within the Prison Service. Prison governors have said organised crime gangs have gained a substantial foothold in jails and in some instances have greater authority and control than staff.
Mitch Albutt, national officer of the Prison Governors Association (PGA), recently described how organised crime gangs had built a lucrative trade in psychoactive drugs inside jails based on coercion, beatings and violence that could turn substances worth £200 on the street into £2,000 profits in prison.
“This pervasive environment of threats and violence exposes individuals’ vulnerabilities, resulting in increased levels of self-harm, suicide and requests for segregation or transfer,” Albutt wrote in the latest PGA newsletter. Gauke will announce an initiative to crack down on these serious organised criminal gangs that operate outside and increasingly inside prisons. The prison service estimates that more than 6,500 of the 86,000-strong prison population have links to organised crime gangs.
“We are taking action to bolster our defences at the prison gate and going after the organised criminal gangs,” Gauke will say. “I want them to know that as a result of the action we are taking, they have no place to hide. Through our covert and intelligence-led operations, we will track them down.”
The justice secretary will disclose that criminal gangs not only use drones to fly illicit drugs into prisons but can direct them to specific cell windows and have even resorted to coating children’s paintings in psychoactive substances.
He will say: “The criminal networks and supply chains have got larger and more complex. And new technologies have empowered gangs to be more sophisticated and brazen about the way drugs are smuggled in. From the conventional to the cunning, by design or by device, through fear or intimidation, these criminal gangs will stop at nothing to maintain their access to such a lucrative market. We will remove their influence from our prisons so that they can become places of hope not despair, of aspiration not assaults, because my approach is a practical one, based on what works and what’s right.”
The current system of categorising prisoners by their sentence length determines whether they serve the majority of their time inside a range of security regimes, from a category-A high-security prison to a category-D open jail. A decision to give a higher security rating to prisoners based on their activities inside jail represents a major change in prison rules.
The new prisons minister, Rory Stewart, recently called for an effort to clean up filthy jails and tackle drugs, saying his priorities were “windows, searches and walls”. The PGA has said the level of budget cuts faced by the prison service without any reduction in the prison population has had an impact on stability, decency and safety inside jails.
Here is the PGA newsletter article referred to above:-
It is clear that those in our care cannot engage in a rehabilitative journey if their environment is unsafe. Drugs pervade every aspect of Prison life effecting those around it with particular notoriety to New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) also now referred to as PS. This one particular label causes chaos in our Establishments and can turn a healthy individual into a medical emergency or a trusted orderly into a frenzied ultra-violent assaulter.
I believe that due to many compounding issues the Organised Crime Gangs (OCG) have gained a substantial foothold in our Prisons and in some instances have greater authority and control than staff.
The Offender Rehabilitation Act (ORA) was introduced resulting in short term prisoners being released on licence. Evidence details the abuse of ORA by OCGs, they coerce individuals to commit minor breaches of their licence conditions resulting in them returning to custody for 7 or 14 days. However the OCGs will have these individuals “plugged” (illicit items concealed in a bodily orifice), then dropped off at a Police station to hand themselves in and thus the illicit items end up in our prisons. In fact I have heard colleagues describe this as a very lucrative business model. To give an idea of how lucrative intelligence at one Establishments indicated that NPS with a street value of £200 would return a profit of £2000. With the control of the supply of drugs comes the violence, beatings are ordered and rival mules “spooned”, an item (usually a spoon) is inserted into the anus to retrieve any secreted package. This pervasive environment of threats and violence exposes individual’s vulnerabilities resulting in increased levels of self-harm, suicide and requests for segregation or transfer, (which is evidenced in HMPPS data). All of these factors divert valuable limited resources away from the delivery of a structured engaging regime resulting in general frustration and increased levels of anxiety and incidents. This ultimately effects the resilience of our staff causing issues with attendance and retention. Thus we descend further into the inescapable grip of the maelstrom.
Although we deal with the symptoms of drugs in our prisons we need to bring greater focus and energise our ability to deal with the causes. If we are able to choke off the supply routes then the OCGs will eventually abandon a money losing business model.
In 2015 the Prisons Minister Andrew Selous and Justice Secretary Chris Grayling were so impressed with the Body Scanner technology that one was promised to every Prison, with the Centre for Social Justice quoting it as a game changer. I recently visited HMP Belmarsh to view this equipment and hear firsthand from the team that use it. To say that I was mightily impressed is an understatement, the team enthused its abilities and showed me evidence of how it detected illicit items secreted externally and internally on prisoners. They also used it if a prisoner was suspected of receiving an item during visits or in fact any intelligence led requirement.
It is most effective if used (as part of an overarching strategy) and with a small group of well-trained dedicated staff and if it has the potential to mitigate all of the above then why would you not devote your resources to achieve this endeavour. The hard outcomes that this approach can deliver are:
- Reduction in medical emergencies and the associated staffing resource and cumulative stress.
- Reduction in violence and the associated staffing implications and cumulative stress.
- Reduction in incidents of selfharm and suicide and the related staffing resource and cumulative stress.
- Reduction in external hospital escorts where prisoners state they have swallowed something and the associated staffing requirement and risk of escape.
- Reduction in the need to respond to incidents and the associated staffing.
- Managing fewer incidents allows managers to spend more time in their function delivering outcomes.
- Reduction in the disruption to the delivery of an effective regime.
- Reduction in stress levels for all staff which should help with wellbeing / resilience and improve attendance and retention.
Finances are very limited but there may be opportunities at local level to secure funding or collaborate with partners to fund such technology. If you would like more information or have any questions about this article then please contact National Officer Mitch Albutt.