More than 6,000 gang members face being moved to tougher jails as part of a crackdown on organised crime in prisons. In his first speech on the prison crisis in England and Wales, justice secretary David Gauke announced plans to relocate some inmates to higher-security prisons based on their risk of committing further crimes in jail.
The government is spending £14m on tackling organised crime in prisons, including setting up a serious organised crime unit within the prison system and investing in technology to enable prison officers to quickly download data from seized mobile phones.
“Shocked and Sickened” by Drug Use
In his keynote address on the future of prisons, Gauke described how gangs were able to fly drones loaded with contraband to specific cell windows – and have even resorted to coating children’s paintings in drugs to get them into prisons.
He said he was “shocked and sickened” by videos of prisoners fighting naked after taking psychoactive substances and spoke of how gangs were using illegal mobile phones and drones to operate a “Deliveroo-style” service, whereby inmates could easily order drugs.
Gauke said standards in many jails had fallen “well below what we would expect”, and that new psychoactive substances such as Spice had created a “perfect storm” which has led to a surge in violence.
According to the prison service, more than 6,500 of the 86,000-strong prison population have links to organised crime gangs. Giving a higher security rating to prisoners based on their behaviour inside jail represents a departure from the present system, which categorizes inmates based on the length of their sentence.
Gauke said incentives such as offering well-behaved prisoners additional contact with family members using technology such as Skype could be used more effectively. The Government is also looking at how the system for release on temporary licence could be used to allow some inmates to leave prison every day to go to work, with close monitoring.
“Going After Organised Criminal Gangs”
“We are taking action to bolster our defences at the prison gate and going after the organised criminal gangs,” said Gauke.
“I want them to know that as a result of the action we are taking, they have no place to hide. Through our covert and intelligence-led operations, we will track them down.”
According to prison governors, gangs have greater authority in some jails than staff. Mitch Albutt recently described how gangs used violence to run a lucrative trade in psychoactive substances such as Spice. He said: “This pervasive environment of threats and violence exposes individuals’ vulnerabilities, resulting in increased levels of self-harm, suicide and requests for segregation or transfer.”
Gauke’s Announcements “Superficial”
Critics have warned that drugs are not the only factor in the prison crisis. Frances Crook, of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said Gauke’s speech failed to address crucial issues including overcrowding and safety behind bars.
“The primary purpose of Government is public safety and the failure to get to grips with this shows a Government that’s failing in its primary purpose,” she said.
“The measures in the speech were all superficial.”