Number of drug finds soars at West Midland prisons
The amount of drugs found in prisons in the West Midlands has risen over the past five years, including at troubled HMP Birmingham where substances were uncovered in almost 250 searches.
At the Winson Green prison, where private contractor G4S has passed back control to the Government, the 242 successful drug searches took place in the 12 months up to March.
That number has gone up five times from five years ago.
At Oakwood Prison, near Wolverhampton, 293 searches uncovered drugs, 13 times more than five years ago. The jail is run by G4S.
Meanwhile, at neighbouring Featherstone, 193 successful drug searches were carried out – three times the number of five years ago.
Prison reform charity the Howard League says that the increase in contraband, including drugs and mobile phones, in English and Welsh prisons reflects wider failings in the penal system.
But John McLaughlin, director at HMP Oakwood, said: “The population at HMP Oakwood has grown considerably over the past five years, and we have placed a greater emphasis on intelligence-led searches thanks to increased security resources, including significant investments in new equipment and technology to detect and prevent drugs and other contraband getting into the prison.
“Our proactive response also includes reducing the demand for drugs inside the prison, and our dedicated drug-recovery unit was recently praised by inspectors.”
Howard League campaigns director Andrew Neilson said: “The rising number of drugs and mobile phone confiscations is a symptom of the problems in an overburdened and under-resourced prison system that is failing the public.
“Where there is drug abuse there is also debt and violence, and these problems have become more severe in prisons across England and Wales as overcrowding and staff shortages have taken their toll.
“The best way to reduce the supply of drugs into prisons is to reduce the demand for them.
"This means ensuring that prisons are properly resourced and prisoners are occupied with purposeful activity, such as work, education, training and exercise.
"Above all, we need to see bold but sensible action to reduce the prison population. This would save lives, protect staff and prevent more people being swept away into deeper currents of crime and despair.”
Conditions in England and Wales’s prisons were highlighted when HMP Birmingham was taken into government control from G4S last month.
Widespread drug use was reported, with three recent fatalities thought to be linked to psychoactive substance abuse.
Reacting to the national numbers, Justice Secretary David Gauke said: “New psychoactive substances (NPS) are a game changer for prison safety, and these statistics reinforce the scale of the challenge.
“We are addressing this head on, and our £7 million investment in prison security will further bolster defences via airport-security style scanners, improved searching techniques and phone-blocking technology.
“We are also adopting pioneering approaches such as our ‘Drug Recovery Prison’ pilot at HMP Holme House, which is leading the way in tackling the supply of drugs and putting offenders on a long-term path to recovery.”