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Prison measures

Seven jails are set to receive new equipment to tackle the smuggling of drugs, phones and weapons behind bars, the Ministry of Justice says. They are: Berwyn, Bristol, Hewell, Lancaster Farms, Leeds, Liverpool and Norwich jails. The Government’s recently announced a £100m spend on prison security. The measures are set to be introduced in other prisons across the estate, says the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

They are airport-style security, including X-ray baggage and metal detection equipment, for searching of visitors and staff on entry to jails, enforced by specially-trained officers. Also; X-ray body scanners for offenders and drug-detection kits to identify and deter attempts to smuggle narcotics, such as Spice, through prisoner mail. The £100m includes a new digital forensics facility, more digital investigations and phone-blocking against what the Government admits is the organised crime behind bars that drives violence and self-harm.

Prisons Minister, Lucy Frazer QC said: “The gate and reception are key areas of vulnerability to smuggling and more robust searching of staff, visitors and prisoners will help reduce the flow of drugs, phones and weapons. This game-changing package of equipment is part of the Government’s new £2.75bn investment to modernise and maintain our prisons, create 10,000 additional places, and crack down on crime behind bars. All of these elements are crucial as we create a system that can rehabilitate, cut reoffending and ultimately make our communities safer.”

More than 20,000 mobile devices and SIM cards are seized in prisons each year, the MoJ reports.

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For Labour, Richard Burgon, Shadow Justice Secretary, said: “Tory cuts to staffing are the main reason our prisons have become more dangerous than ever. Despite all the Tory spin, there are still thousands fewer prison officers then when Labour left office. You can’t trust the Tories with our public services. The next Labour government will restore prison officer numbers to 2010 levels. The Tories must commit to doing the same.”

As an example of the state of prisons, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, published a report on an inspection of HMP Bristol in May and June 2019 which, at the time, identified such serious problems that the Chief Inspector invoked the rarely-used Urgent Notification (UN) process. Since 2010, inspectors have found he said ‘a record of seemingly intractable failure’. The report spoke of violence against prisoners and staff, some serious, and high use of force by staff (though body-worn camera footage showed de-escalation of incidents by staff). Many prisoners felt unsafe.

Mr Clarke said: “Bristol may not have reached the extreme lack of order and crisis seen in some other prisons and this report acknowledges some developments and some improvements, but many initiatives were poorly coordinated, applied inconsistently or not well embedded.”


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