Drug finds in UK prisons have increased by more than a third over the past three years, new figures reveal. It comes as a leaked confidential prison service report suggested that as many as 1,000 prison officers in Britain are corrupt.
Data released under the freedom of information act (FOIA) shows how many times drugs or drug equipment have been found in each prison. The total number of such finds reached 5,490 in 2005, up from 4,050 in 2002.
The breakdown shows that the increase in drug finds at some prisons during the period was especially high.
Ford open prison in West Sussex saw the highest rise, up 11 times to 162 finds; Wormwood Scrubs, a Victorian prison in west London, had a seven-fold rise to 202; Holme House in Stockton on Tees had a similar increase to 191.
There was more than a tripling of drug finds at Risley in Warrington, Cheshire to 198; a near tripling at Pentonville, a Victorian prison in north London, to 136; a doubling at Forest Bank, a contracted-out jail in Manchester, to 549; and a 50% increase at Highpoint, a former RAF base in Newmarket, Suffolk, to 134.
And, although Brixton in south London is known as a drugs hotspot, the prison there only had four drug finds last year – down from 11 in 2002.
This latest data on 145 prisons provides the most extensive overview of the drugs problem in British jails.
However, the figures do not explain whether they provide evidence of a growing drugs problem or prison officers are simply searching inmates’ cells for drugs more closely.
The same period has also seen an increase in Britain’s prison population, which stands at 78,920, according to the latest figures last week.
The national offender management service (NOMS), which was created two years ago to oversee prisons and the probation service, released the data but said that the figures did not allow like-for-like comparisons between prisons.
“It has been identified that there are inconsist-encies in recording these figures between establishments which render them unsafe for comparison purposes.
“Processes are being implemented to remove these inconsistencies in the form of the implementation of a common methodology for recording and improved training.”
Many prisoners go to jail with serious drugs problems. Prisons offer advice to help inmates come off drugs, while some also provide a detoxification service.
Corruption among prison officers is believed to be rife, with a confidential prison service report leaked earlier this month endorsing that view. Some officers are known to have smuggled drugs into jails.
One prison officer, Norman Egerton, was jailed two years ago for trying to sell heroin to inmates after being caught with 147 wraps of the drug hidden in his shoes when he started his shift at Forest Bank prison.
Manchester crown court heard that Egerton in-tended to the sell the drugs – with a prison value of £7,000 – to the inmates. The cost of drugs in prisons is three times more than street prices.
Forest Bank has the highest number of drug finds, according to the newly released data.
One of the jails with the lowest figures was King-ston prison in Portsmouth, with two finds in 2005. But it counts as having made one of the most extraordinary discoveries.
Tennis balls containing cannabis were hit over the wall by friends of the inmates. Warders at the prison initially thought that prisoners’ enthusiasm for collecting tennis balls “accidentally” knocked into the yard was just a sign that the Wimbledon fortnight was imminent.
They were alerted when random drug testing revealed that 35% of inmates were using drugs. By the beginning of April, that rate of positive testing fell to 12.9%, just above the national prison average of 10.3%.
NOMS launched a new anti-drugs strategy in January, adding further measures to try to cut drugs use in prisons.
Paul Goggins, prisons minister, said at the time: “I am confident that the launch of the NOMS drug strategy will provide a more consistent and co-ordinated approach for dealing with the use of illicit drugs.”
The new data suggest that the prison service may have turned the corner over the drugs problem in British jails.
The number of drug finds in the first three months of 2006 totals 887, equivalent to 3,548 over a year, which would be the lowest level this decade.
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