Special units rolled out to detect contraband and prevent violence in jails
Specialist units of prison officers could be sent in to sniff out contraband and stop violence erupting at Suffolk’s closed jails.
The government announced the national roll-out of specially trained teams following the deployment of pilot units to eight high security prisons.
More than 100 officers will be split into regional hubs to act on intelligence and prevent disorder.
The Ministry of Justice said the £4.3 million roll-out – to more than 100 closed adult male prisons – would be the latest stage in a £70m plan to combat gangs and organised crime in jail.
This week, an investigation was launched at Highpoint prison, in Stradishall, after an inmate uploaded an online video of himself rapping, using a banned mobile phone from his cell.
In the 12 months to March 2018, officers found 846 phones or SIM cards in Suffolk’s closed prisons (639 at Highpoint and 25 at Warren Hill, near Woodbridge), while 182 were found at Hollesley Bay open prison.
The new teams will act on intelligence from existing and future phone detecting technology, work with search dog units and use other searching equipment to combat threats, such as drugs, drones and mobiles.
There were 236 instances of drugs being found at Suffolk’s jails last year (206 at Highpoint, 25 at Hollesley Bay and five at Warren Hill). More than a quarter (26%) of random drugs tests were failed at Highpoint – almost three quarters of which (73%) detected psychoactive substances. Just 5% were failed at Hollesley Bay open prison, while almost 8% were failed at Warren Hill, which holds indeterminate sentenced category C male prisoners.
In 2017, there were 325 assaults at Highpoint, three at Hollesley Bay and 12 at Warren Hill.
Justice Secretary David Gauke said: “Measures like this, together with our unrelenting focus on rehabilitation, will help to ensure prisons are places where offenders can turn their backs on crime, and ultimately prevent future victims.”
Earlier this year, the government announced an additional £30m for prisons, including £16m to improve conditions and £7m on new security measures, such as airport style scanners, improved searching techniques and phone-blocking technology.
Specialist team recruitment has started and is expected to continue into the new year.