Huge increase in drug seizure numbers from inmates at Gartree Prison

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The amount of drugs seized at Gartree Prison has rocketed in the last five years, according to new figures.

Prison reform charity the Howard League says that the increase in contraband, including drugs and mobile phones, in prisons reflects wider failings in the penal system.

In the 12 months to March 2018, 78 searches uncovered drugs within Gartree prison - 11 times more than five years ago.

Over the same period, 11 per cent of the mandatory drug tests conducted in HMP Gartree returned a positive result, figures from the Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service show.

In total, inmates failed 43 of the 404 tests conducted in the institution.

For the first time this year, the figures include psychoactive substances such as spice, the abuse of which has increasingly become a concern for prison staff.

The most common single drug type found to have been taken in Gartree was psychoactive substances such as this, which was found in 63 per cent of samples.

The situation in Gartree reflects the national picture, where 20 per cent of all drug tests carried out in prisons in England and Wales were positive – meaning more than 11,000 samples were returned showing drug use.

Andrew Neilson, the campaigns director at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said that the finds of drugs and other contraband – including mobile phones, 74 of which were found in Gartree over the last year – were symptomatic of wider problems in the prison system.

He 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.”

Earlier this week, conditions in England and Wales’s prisons were highlighted when HMP Birmingham was taken into government control from private contractors G4S.

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.”