Top-security inmates 'in a haze of drugs and alcohol'

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INMATES in a top-security prison are seeing out their sentences in a haze of drugs and alcohol, while intimidation of staff by a hard core of prisoners has created temporary 'no-go areas'.

The picture of lawlessness in Long Lartin jail, Hereford and Worcester, was painted by Judge Stephen Tumim, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, who said that 'hooch' - alchohol brewed in cells - was consumed in front of staff. On the week of his inspection, one inmate was found to have a large quantity of heroin. Rumour had it that new prisoners were being offered free drugs as an introduction, and some inmates were using prescribed medications in drug cocktails.

Long Lartin - which houses many inmates convicted of murder and terrorist offences - is the second jail in as many months to be criticised by Judge Tumim for the availability of drugs. In Wymott Prison, Lancashire, inspectors believed that 10 inmates they found dozing in the laundry room were 'under the influence'.

But Judge Tumim agreed with the prison governor and staff that the introduction of 'Draconian' methods to deal with alcohol and drug abuse was not the right answer. Help for addiction should be offered and more thorough searches undertaken.

Hugh Callaghan, one of the Birmingham Six who served much of his wrongful sentence in Long Lartin, said a blind eye was often turned to illicit drink and drugs in order to keep the peace.

Judge Tumim also found 'the atmosphere on the wings was unhealthy, with too many men idle and with too little to occupy their minds'. Cells were dirty, claustrophobic and unsuitable for prisoners serving long sentences. Weaknesses in the prison's design caused him to recommend its eventual removal from use as a top-security dispersal jail.

Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, said that since the report several initiatives had been undertaken to improve the situation, including the provision of counselling facilities.