David Gauke 'sickened' by Facebook videos showing extent of prison drug use

Crime bosses running 'Deliveroo-style' service to bring drugs into prisons, says Justice Secretary 

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 06 March 2018 12:32 GMT
David Gauke describes shocking videos emerging from UK prisons

David Gauke has said he was "shocked and sickened" by the extent of drug use in jails after he watched social media videos showing naked prisoners fighting like dogs while high on new psychoactive substances.

In his first speech since becoming Justice Secretary, Mr Gauke said that crime bosses were operating a "Deliveroo-style" ordering service, using illicit mobile phones to order drugs from prison cells that are then flown in using drones.

Announcing new plans to isolate crime bosses, he said it was clear that standards had "fallen well below what we would expect" in some institutions, as prisons struggle with a toxic cocktail of drugs, violence and self harm behind bars.

New psychoactive substances such as spice - a synthetic cannabinoid substance which can cause aggression and psychosis - have created a "perfect storm" in prisons, ramping up levels of violence between inmates and prison officers, he said.

Mr Gauke told an audience in London: "I have been shocked and sickened watching some of the videos filmed by prisoners using illicit mobile phones and posted on social media.

"They show the the terrifying and debilitating impact spice is having and the drug-fuelled violence and humiliation it unleashes."

Describing how inmates went from laughing to having a fit in a matter of seconds, Mr Gauke said: "Another video shows two naked prisoners believing they are dogs with makeshift muzzles and leads around their necks, barking at each other, goaded on by other prisoners.

"Another shows a prisoner climbing into a tumble dryer in a prison laundry room, other prisoners then turn the machine on and he's spun around inside - a dangerous act of humiliation."

Criminal gangs are exploiting the captive market behind bars, while "more complex and new technologies have empowered gangs to be more sophisticated and brazen about the way drugs are smuggled in," Mr Gauke said.

He said: "Spice, and other drugs, ordered with a 'Deliveroo-style' responsiveness on tiny mobile phones from prison cells and delivered by drones direct to cell windows.

"The paint used in supposed children's drawings sent to their parents in prison laced with liquid psychoactive drugs, or the pages of fake legal letters purporting to be from a prisoner's solicitor soaked in drugs.

"Gangs engineering situations where a prisoner, who has been released from prison, deliberately breaches their licence conditions so they are sent back to smuggle in more drugs.

"Gangs enforcing control by using threats and violence towards prisoners, extorting their families and attempting to corrupt prison staff."

Technology is being installed in 30 jails to allow prison officers to quickly download data from seized mobile phones to stem the flow of contraband - a process that can normally take months.

The Cabinet minister confirmed plans to isolate criminal bosses who run gangland empires from their prison cells by sending them to high security jails. Around 6,500 inmates are believed to have organised crime links in England and Wales, authorities believe.

Mr Gauke said incentives could be used more effectively, such as by offering well-behaved prisoners extra contact time with family members using technology such as Skype.

Ministers are also looking at how the release on temporary licence scheme could be used to allow some inmates to leave prison daily to go to work, with close monitoring.

However critics warned that drugs were not the only driving factor of the growing crisis in prisons, which has seen record levels of violence and self-injury behind bars.

Frances Crook, of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said his speech only dealt with "the symptoms" of the prisons crisis rather than focusing on issues such as overcrowding and safety behind bars, and accused Mr Gauke of focusing on "boys toys" with his efforts to curb drone use.

She told The Independent: "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.

"The measures in the speech were all superficial... Drugs are a sign of the serious stress that prisons are under, there are lots of other symptoms."

Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon said: “Tory cuts to staff and budgets have created the dire situation in our prisons. Since the so-called Government recruitment drive began, one in five prisons has seen a further fall in prison officer numbers. It is even worse at high security prisons, where a third have fewer prisons officers than one year ago.

"With even greater budget cuts planned over the coming years, there is a real danger that our prisons will move beyond crisis to a full-blown emergency.”

Mike Trace, chief executive of the Forward Trust, said: “Whilst today’s announcement outlines measures to reduce the supply of drugs, more must be done to reduce the demand.

"More than half of new arrivals in prison are daily users of drugs or dependent on alcohol. Most seek to continue using inside and - if a way isn’t found to turn them away from the dealer and towards treatment and recovery - their demand fuels the profits of the gangs, which itself is behind most of the violence, disorder, and health emergencies in prison today.”

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