Crime bosses who operate from prison cells to be placed in high security jails

Justice Secretary David Gauke vows to isolate influential inmates from their networks and pledges £14m for new unit to tackle in-prison crime

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Tuesday 06 March 2018 01:17 GMT
David Gauke describes shocking videos emerging from UK prisons

Crime bosses who run gangland empires from their prison cell will be cut off from the outside world in high-security jails, under a new crackdown.

The Justice Secretary will outline plans to expand the criteria for locking up offenders in the most tightly controlled jails, to include the likelihood of them pursuing criminal activity while inside.

David Gauke will also pledge a further £14m for the fight against organised crime, including funding for a new unit to track and disrupt activity in Britain’s prisons.

In his first major speech in his new job, he will outline some of the “brazen” methods gangs are using to smuggle drugs into jails – including using drones and coating children’s paintings in psychoactive substances.

Mr Gauke will say: “We are taking action to bolster our defences at the prison gate and going after the organised criminal gangs.

“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.”

Currently offenders are placed in a higher security prison based on their crime, sentence length and whether they are an escape risk.

But under his new approach, Mr Gauke has said he will look at recategorising prisoners, putting them into the most controlled conditions if there is a supposed risk of continuing criminality in prison.

The more secure prisons involve higher and more dangerous walls, double internal fencing with motion detectors, 24/7 dog patrols, enhanced intelligence staffing, embedded counter-terror units, armoured vehicles and technology to disrupt mobile signals.

There are onsite hospitals to mitigate the need for any prisoner to leave, as well helicopter wire to stop aircraft approaching.

Critically, those going in and out of the jails are subject to much stricter searches, including rub downs and a full-body scanner to identify objects hidden internally.

Governors highlighted the problem to Mr Gauke on his recent tour of the prison estate, telling the minister how people had been caught trying to smuggle in mobile phones as small as a thumb.

He was told that prison windows are broken because it makes it easier to deliver packages to inmates with drones, while children’s pictures sent into prisons as gifts contain narcotics in the paint so that they can be cut up and consumed.

Mr Gauke will say: “The criminal networks and supply chains have got larger and more complex. And new technologies have empowered gangs to be more sophisticated and brazen about the way drugs are smuggled in.

“From the conventional to the cunning, by design or device, through fear or intimidation, these criminal gangs will stop at nothing to maintain their access to such a lucrative market.”

The cabinet minister will add: “We will remove their influence from our prisons so they can become places of hope not despair, of aspiration, not assaults – because my approach is a practical one, based on what works.”

Mr Gauke took on his new job in January, with campaigners warning that Britain’s prisons are on the brink of crisis amid soaring levels of self-injury and violence.

Just 10 days after he started, the Prisons Inspectorate warned that conditions behind bars are now the “worst they have ever seen”, with a string of suicides underlining the point since.

The general secretary of the Prison Officers Association has likened challenges facing the service today with those that led to the Strangeways riot in 1990, which ended with one prisoner dead and 47 injured, in addition to 147 injured prison officers.

The inspectorate has also struggled with the prevalence of drugs – in HMP Lindholme in South Yorkshire, officers seized 500 drug packages in six months.

The Independent understands Mr Gauke believes tackling the problem a key priority, as it would also help address other issues.

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