Archives for August 2009

On the trail of drug smugglers in prison

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Raphael Rowe | 11:10 UK time, Sunday, 2 August 2009

Those who have read my profile will know I spent many years in prison, so I have an insight, even if slightly outdated, about the inner workings of the prison system. The court of appeal quashed my conviction, for crimes I did not commit, in 2000 and I was freed from prison.

But not before I spent a number of years, in a number of different prisons and witnessed many drug deals and drug takers. I was there when the Mandatory Drug Test (MDT) was first introduced, back in 1996, so saw first hand the impact it had.

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I had acquaintances that shifted from smoking cannabis to chasing the dragon, smoking heroin, in an attempt to avoid being caught by the MDT: A trace of heroin doesn't stay in your system as long as cannabis so the chances of being tested positively and punished were reduced.

My insight aside, the link between drugs, crime and prison is all too apparent. So what are the Government and prison service doing to break that link especially inside?
Many who work in this field argue if you can get criminals on drugs, off drugs, whilst they're serving a prison sentence the chance is they won't commit crime on the out to feed their habit. More than half of the 80,000-prison population test positive for drugs when entering jail.

The prison service spends more than 100 million a year on drug rehabilitation, but only 6 million is dedicated to disrupting the supply of drugs into prison.

So in "Smugglers' Tales" we ask if the prison service is doing enough to stop the flow of drugs and mobile phones getting into. We look at the technology and simple search methods.

Prisoners are not allowed mobile phones or use of the Internet. Prison officers are not even authorized to take their own mobile phones into prisons and anyone caught with one can be sentenced to 2 years inside.

Yet we have a couple of amazing stories where prisoners make phone calls from their cells using mobile phones. We hear a prisoner calling the police on a mobile from his cell trying to find out where a female prison officer is after she'd been arrested for attempting to bring him drugs.

There is a constant cat and mouse game played out by prisoners trying to get drugs, mobile phones or other contraband in and prison staff who are trying to keep it out.
I spent six days inside Woodhill Category A High Security prison in Milton Keynes, not as a prisoner this time, but as an observer.

The fact there were nearly 9,000 mobile phones and sim cards found in prisons last year, and nearly 5,000 individual drug seizures doesn't tell the whole story.

The prison services don't record the quantity or weight of each find, not all phones found are sent of for analysis and so the true extent of the problem is unknown.

The former head of prisons drugs strategy put the drug trade worth at 100 million a year. When I spoke with a prison source high up in security they put it at least 22 million.

There are five main routes for drugs to get into prisons: Visitors; corrupt staff; over the wall stuffed in dead pigeons or tennis balls; prisoners who attend court hearings expecting to go to jail and through the post.

We obtained some classic CCTV footage of drug handovers in visiting halls showing women pulling it out from between their legs and images of what look like parents, wives, friends and girlfriends slipping drug parcels to the prisoner.

It's a fact of life that there are drugs in every prison in the country.

The prison service accepts this and has a professional and motivated response, but it also recognizes it is a challenge that will need constant adaptation to match the ingenious methods used to get drugs and mobile phones in.

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