People found smuggling or using new psychoactive substances (NPS) in prison will face a new range of punitive measures, the government has announced. The Ministry of Justice has written to prison governors setting out the available punishments in a move designed to ‘reinforce the prison estate’s zero tolerance approach to contraband’.
The measures facing prisoners suspected of smuggling or using NPS include having an extra 42 days added to their sentence, removal of privileges such as TV and additional visits, forfeit of earnings, being confined to their cell for up to 21 days and ‘closed visits’ that allow no contact with partners or children. Inmates could also be placed in a higher security prison or – if the NPS is a controlled drug – face prosecution and a further sentence.
Concern has been growing among prison authorities for some time over the use of NPS – in particular synthetic cannabinoids like ‘Black Mamba’ – as they are more difficult to detect and their effects harder to predict than traditional drugs (see news focus). The substances have also been blamed for increasing rates of drug-related violence and ill health, with prison seizures of the cannabinoid ‘Spice’ rising from a total of 15 in 2010 to 430 in the first seven months of last year.
The ministry has also announced that it intends to expand its prison drug testing to include a wider range of controlled substances as well as synthetic and prescription drugs when the technology becomes available. It will also train more specialist dog teams to detect NPS in the prison estate.
While Transform said the crackdowns ‘completely missed the point’, justice secretary Chris Grayling stated that the government was ‘determined to make sure governors have every power at their disposal to detect supply, punish those found using or dealing, and enforce a zero tolerance approach’ towards NPS.
‘Go onto any prison wing and staff will tell you that whilst we’ve made good headway on drug misuse in prisons, there’s a new phenomenon they are increasingly seeing in the form of so-called “legal highs”,’ he said. ‘What we’re also hearing is that these substances seem to be part of the problem around increasing violence in our prison estate. Prisoners should be very clear – if they think they can get away with using these substances, they need to think again. And the same applies to those who are the suppliers, whether they’re inside or outside the prison gates.’