Troubled prisons to trial £10m blitz on drugs and violence

HMP Leeds, which received a damning inspection report earlier this year, is among the sites chosen to take part
HMP Leeds, which received a damning inspection report earlier this year, is among the sites chosen to take part

SIX TROUBLED Yorkshire prisons are among 10 sites selected for a new £10m blitz on drugs and violence.

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart said a surge in the use of Spice and other drugs was driving prisoners into "aggressive frenzies", while prison guards needed more training to help them clamp down on poor behaviour by inmates.

He is today announcing a package of measures designed to ameliorate the "acute" problems with drug use and violence at the prisons, saying the pilot project would pave the way for a "new ethos" across the estate in England and Wales.

The prisons selected for the programme include six in Yorkshire: Leeds, Hull, Humber, Wealstun, near Wetherby, and Lindholme and Moorland, both near Doncaster.

About £6m has been earmarked to provide each of the prisons with new scanners capable of spotting packages inside bodies and sniffer dogs trained to detect drugs.

The cash will also be used to improve perimeter security in an attempt to stop drugs being flown in by drones or thrown over walls.

There will also be a focus on standardising residential areas, with £3 million to improve the fabric of the jails and new standards of decency and cleanliness drawn up.

The third strand of the drive will see £1 million spent on bespoke leadership training programmes for governors and prison staff.

Mr Stewart said: "Prisons can be intensely intimidating environments. It is not easy, for example, to know what to do if a prisoner swaggers up to you on a busy landing and swears at you. I recently witnessed an officer who chose to simply ignore it, telling me that the prisoner had a troubled past. But, if we are serious about getting on top of violence, we need to train new officers on how to challenge such behaviour."

Officials said the scheme will be up and running in all 10 prisons by the end of the year, with "tangible results" within 12 months.

Richard Burgon, Shadow Justice Secretary, and East Leeds MP, said: "The Conservatives' decision to axe thousands of officers and cut hundreds of millions from prisons budgets created a deep crisis in our prisons.

"The Government needs to go much further and set out an emergency plan across the prisons estate with substantial new funding that puts an end to this crisis and makes our prisons safe and humane."

It is the latest in a string of steps aimed at tackling the safety crisis that has gripped the prisons system in recent years.

Figures published last month showed self-harm incidents and assaults in jails were at record levels, while finds of drugs and mobile phones increased by 23% and 15% respectively in the year to March.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "The governors of the 10 prisons will be pleased to have a little more money, wherever it comes from."

He said Mr Stewart "must concentrate on the job only he can do - matching the demands on the system to the resource Parliament is prepared to make available for it", adding: "It was a catastrophic failure to provide that balance which caused the collapse of prison safety after 2012 - trying to tell governors how to run prisons is not going to put it right."