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Prisons Strategy

A zero-tolerance approach to drugs is among the promises in a Prisons Strategy White Paper, published by the Ministry of Justice. It says that all new-build prisons (six will be built over the next five years, says the MoJ) will have body scanners and airport-style security. Under construction are Glen Parva, Leicestershire, and HMP Five Wells, Wellingborough. Also proposed is speedier punishment if prisoners transgress while inside jail. Penalties will be linked to their offence and support rehabilitation, for instance forcing prisoners to repair their cells or prison landings if they cause damage.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said: “We’re building the prisons to incarcerate dangerous and prolific offenders. We’re deploying the tech to stop the flow of drugs, weapons and phones into prisons. And we’re re-orienting the regime to get offenders off drugs for good, and into work – to cut crime, and keep the pubic safe.”

The White Paper links to the Ten Year Drugs Strategy, released a day earlier. As for drug addictions inside prisons – including some prisoners becoming addicts while there – the document promises ‘work to tackle the substance misuse and mental health issues which for too many prisoners pose a barrier to rehabilitation reform by deploying the full range of treatment options, including abstinence-based treatment’.

As for how or whether any of the ambitions are measured, the strategy promises a ‘new prison performance dashboard that will capture progress against our priorities and key performance indicators’, those priorities including ‘security and stability’, ‘with no tolerance of drugs’ or other illicit items, such as weapons. The document admits that illegal (or prescription) drugs in prisons can make them unsafe places; an illicit economy can develop, which pushes prisoners ‘into a cycle of debt’. “This system is often violently self-policed, including enforcing debt and ‘turf wars’ over lucrative markets, leading to assaults on staff”, the strategy admits. It claims to have seen an improvement in safety in recent years.

As for women’s prisons – women make up 4pc of the UK Prison population – the document speaks of ‘new accommodation that is safe, secure, trauma-informed and women-specific’.

For the 76-page document, visit


For Labour, Shadow Justice Secretary Steve Reed said: “It’s no wonder that drug use among prisoners has soared in the last decade because the Conservatives have mismanaged our prisons, leading them to become awash with drugs, violence and disorder.

“Conservative incompetence, cuts to the whole justice system and a lack of oversight of contracted companies has left prisons understaffed, dangerous and overcrowded universities of crime where drug addiction is rife and re-offending is commonplace.

“Boris Johnson and the Conservatives cannot be trusted to clean up the mess they’ve made in prisons because they are soft on crime – and with their chaotic court case backlog, violent offenders will be allowed to continue to roam Britain’s streets for longer.”

Official inspections by HM Inspectorate of Prisons routinely find institutions that are violent and unsafe and not improving, or where conditions are becoming worse. Most recently the inspection report on Earlstoke in Wiltshire pointed to ‘disappointing’ failure to address problems of safety, poor living conditions and a lack of meaningful activity which had been identified in previous inspections. Partly-Victorian era Chelmsford had ‘high levels of violence, self-inflicted death and self-harm. The prison was also characterised by overcrowding, piled up rubbish and a persistent rat infestation’.

Photo by Mark Rowe; Maidstone Prison wall, Kent.


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