Prison security is crucial to maintaining the safety of staff, as well as inmates, at correctional institutions.
But with safety declining since 2012, assaults and incidents of self-harm at record highs and the number of self-inflicted deaths rising, many are questioning: how secure are prisons in the UK really?
In 2019, there were 34,000 assaults in prisons — the highest ever recorded and equivalent to 412 per 1,000 prisoners. There were also 2,200 incidents (nearly four times the number ten years previously) of protesting behaviour, including forming barricades, taking hostages and concerted indiscipline.
Just recently on the 8th of October, two HMP Whitemoor prisoners received life sentences for attempted murder after they attacked a prison officer. One of the prisoners was also sentenced for actual bodily harm of a nurse and common assault of another officer who came to the victim’s assistance.
Clearly, violence in prisons is a growing issue. However, the surge in assaults tells only part of the story. Peter Clarke, the chief inspector of prisons, claims that much of this violence lies behind the “ready availability” of drugs in these institutions.
Heroin abuse has been rife within prisons for many years. But in the past five years, the proportion of prisoners developing a drug problem in custody has more than doubled.
‘Spice’ — a former legal high — is now the most widely used psychoactive substance and has presented many challenges for the prison system recently. Both the substance itself and the drug debts that arise from prisoners trying to maintain their habit can lead to spikes in violence.
Operating behind bars
Prison systems provide a highly lucrative and captive market, particularly for synthetic substances such as spice. The trade in these drugs is often co-ordinated by organised criminal networks operating from behind bars.
But how do they get into the prison in the first place? Spice has reportedly been smuggled into prisons through inmate mail after being sprayed on children’s drawings and letters. The drug dissolves into the paper, which can then be rolled and smoked. Books and clothing are also common ways for outsiders to smuggle contraband into prisons. There have even been reports of drug-filled rats being flung over prison fences.
Unfortunately, security standards vary from prison to prison, and many are not equipped to disrupt this level of drug supply.
Airport-style security screening
Illicit substances evidently pose considerable challenges in UK prisons — with chief inspectors, independent monitoring boards, the Justice Committee and the Prison and Probation Ombudsman all repeatedly expressing concerns.
So, what can be done to tackle drug smuggling and break the supply chain?
Many prison staff regard the installation of tough airport-style x-ray baggage scanners and walk-through metal detectors as a ‘game-changer’. This screening equipment can detect not only drugs but also the mobile phones used to arrange deals.
Combined with a broader package of measures — including drug-detection kits, improved staff training and phone-blocking technology — this equipment can help to step up searches on visitors and staff entering the prison and clamp down on organised crime behind bars.
However, security also needs to be strengthened at and around the prison gates. The gate and reception are highly vulnerable to smuggling and are critical areas where robust searches of staff, visitors and prisoners will help to reduce the flow of drugs and other contraband.
Vehicle scanners, such as the 2X Systems 2X-300, can be integrated into the current physical security infrastructure at the facility’s point of entry or exit. When used in these critical locations, the system adds another layer of security and prevents smuggling through vehicles entering and leaving the premises.
To find out more about 2X Systems’ security screening equipment for prisons and other secure facilities, get in contact today.