|Sam Gyimah: Prison Minister|
It seems our dysfunctional Ministry of Justice (MOJ) never learns the truth of the old saying that when you have already dug yourself a very deep hole, it’s best to stop digging. This week it’s hapless Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah who is the star of the clown show.
We are absolutely determined to tackle the illegal flow of drugs and mobile phones into our prisons and turn them into places of safety and reform. The threat posed by drones is clear, but our dedicated staff are committed to winning the fight against those who are attempting to thwart progress by wreaking havoc in establishments all over the country.
|Call for the Flying Squad|
Nevertheless, the MOJ – always anxious to be seen to be ‘doing something’ – has just announced the launch of a ‘national initiative’ that will see prison authorities pool intelligence about drones with the police. An astonishing £3 million is likely to be earmarked to set up this new task force, while the much bigger issue of how the vast majority of contraband consignments actually get into our chaotic prisons remains largely ignored.
|Contraband this way...|
Time and again I’ve had it confirmed by long-serving members of the prison staff that there is often little or no searching of staff by security officers. As one remarked to me recently, “I’ve worked in prisons for over eight years and I have personally NEVER been searched going into my workplace.”
This means that unless a corrupt individual is extremely unlucky, the risk of being caught red-handed is likely to be incredibly small. It’s my suspicion that those staffers who do get apprehended with holdalls full of drugs, mobile phones and SIM cards have already been the subject of tip-offs in the run up to their arrest.
|Not likely to be 'plugged'|
Moreover, not all of these phones are tiny so-called ‘BOSS-buster’ handsets that can be concealed inside bodily orifices and beat the BOSS chairs that are supposed to scan for illicit electronic contraband in jails. As is evident from mobile footage being shot in prisons and then posted on social media, many prisoners are in possession of full size smart phones, including iPhones.
|Busted by BOSS?|
Of course, not all contraband is smuggled into prisons by bent staff members. There are plenty of alternative routes as was shown at HMP Northumberland in 2015 when quantities of Class A drugs were discovered concealed inside old mattresses being brought into the prison as part of a recycling operation. It is true that drones are also being used, although the current numbers of incidents is certainly not sufficient to justify spending £3 million of taxpayers’ money on a specialist unit, rather than tackling contraband smuggling as a whole.
|Sam Gyimah: trying not to laugh|
In reality, this public money would be far better spent on developing an effective national anti-corruption unit that would do serious intelligence work to combat the pernicious spread of drugs and phones throughout the prison estate. Highly mobile security teams should be deployed without notice at jails to search anyone coming into prisons, including governor grades, focusing first on those prisons where HMIP have identified serious problems. Such an initiative would cost money, but at least it wouldn’t be wasted on a Keystone Cop-style pursuit of a few dozen drones. It might also tackle the tsunami of crime and corruption that is drowning our prisons in drugs, contraband, bullying, debt and violence.