Prisoners `offering bribes to warders'

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The Independent Online
INMATES OF Britain's high- security prisons are offering bribes of up to pounds 30,000 to warders for help in moving to open jails, in an epidemic of corruption in the Prison Service.

A senior Metropolitan Police officer on secondment to the service has warned of a "major problem" with prisoners offering cash to officers for privileges. The Prison Service is 15 years behind police in tackling corruption in its ranks, said Commander Martin Gerrard.

Prisoners will pay up to pounds 30,000 to be given a category D security rating, which makes them eligible for a switch to open jails, which have more relaxed regimes and minimal security. Inmates are also prepared to pay for perks, such as television in their cells and more visiting rights.

Cmdr Gerrard is head of the Police Advisers' Unit within the Prison Service, which acts as a link between the two services. "For a pounds 15,000- a-year prison officer with a young family it is very tempting to just write a form up saying a prisoner is suitable for category D conditions," he told the service's internal magazine, Prison Service News. "There is no need to deal in drugs or bring anything into the prison, and once they've done that they are on a slippery slope."

Three officers have been suspended from Brixton Prison, in south London, accused of accepting bribes, and officers elsewhere have been suspended on suspicion of helping prisoners escape and seeking loans from inmates. The Prison Service has no complaints investigation bureau (CIB), unlike some of the larger police forces, including the Met which recently has been rocked by a major corruption scandal.

Mark Leech, editor of the Prisons Handbook, said that the problem of corruption among officers was on the rise because the new emphasis on building up relationships with prisoners meant that staff were much more vulnerable to being manipulated.

At the same time, the increased use of support staff, who are not trained to the same level as the prison officers, means criminals have been able to find weak links to exploit in the chain.

But a spokesman for the Prison Service denied that corruption was a big problem and said that whenever cases emerged they were dealt with rigorously. He said: "Whenever it happens, we come down hard and the police would certainly be involved. We take it very seriously, but I wouldn't say it is widespread.

"Although we don't have an equivalent of CIB, we do investigate any allegations thoroughly when they come to light and we have mounted pro-active operations involving Prison Service staff and police to root out misconduct.

"In such serious circumstances, any individual would be suspended while they were investigated and would face dismissal if they were prosecuted and found guilty."