Font Size: A A A

Case Studies

Prison corruption ‘inconvenient truth’

The first thing to do about corruption in prisons is to acknowledge there is a problem, it’s claimed. John Podmore, a former head of the Prison Service’s Anti-Corruption Unit and now a consultant, was speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning. While there is much talk about drones being used to drop contraband, such as mobile phones and drugs, into prisons, ‘drones are a convenient distraction,’ John Podmore told Today.

“It’s corruption that is the inconvenient truth; there is not much in my opinion getting in with drones.” Asked what is to be done, he answered; training, and support, and resources in investigating and prosecuting cases: “We have to put resources into this, if we are going to solve the problem of corruption and the smuggling in of drugs and mobile phones.”

Earlier, he said that prisons had always had a corruption problem, just as there was corruption in the media, sport and politics: “Why wouldn’t there be corruption in prisons. But with the reduction in staffing levels and the general lack of regime in prisons, the problem is getting worse. At the moment it’s difficult for prison governors to have enough staff to unlock prisoners to go to the gym or go for education; he hasn’t got the resources to investigate staff corruption; and most governors will have some suspicions about their staff. They will have a security department, who will be looking out for corrupt staff.” But he stressed, there is a need for resources to investigate cases and bring them to prosecution.

In most cases, staff or other outsiders are manipulated or intimidated into doing ‘favours’ for prisoners; in a minority of cases, the corrupt persons have criminal intent, or may even join HM Prison Service because they seek to make money by smuggling drugs into prisons. He recalled a case of someone who joined the Prison Service; a ‘sting’ operation found the man with drugs. He had been a serving prisoner at Wormwood Scrubs and was an illegal immigrant: “So everything failed.” Not many will join the Prison Service for such purpose; but they have a disproportionate effect, he added.

BBC Radio 4’s documentary series File on 4 at 8pm has a 38-minute broadcast on ‘The Prison Contraband Crisis’: more at


Related News