More than 100 specialists are being drafted into adult men’s jails across the country in a crackdown on drugs, mobile phones and weapons.
The officers will lead efforts to locate banned items which trigger violence, as part of a drive by the Justice Secretary, David Gauke, to “take on” criminal kingpins behind bars.
Prison staff say they are locked in a “game of cat and mouse” with inmates, who are adopting increasingly inventive tactics to keep contraband hidden, such as secreting it in electrical items or hollowed-out furniture.
Mr Gauke said: “Dedicated search teams will be deployed across the entire closed adult male estate to effectively bust drug dealers and gangs who trade in contraband in prisons.
“The ability to have people who, day in day out, search cells, know every trick in the book, have seen it all before, is a big advantage.”
The Ministry of Justice is rolling out the units across more than 100 prisons after successful trials in eight high-security establishments.
The teams act on intelligence from mobile phone detection technology, using search dogs and other specialist search equipment to identify banned items.
Authorities estimate there are around 6,500 inmates with links to organised crime in England and Wales.
Mr Gauke said: “It is clearly a significant challenge that we face. The existence of organised crime is clear. The evidence that it is at the heart of a lot of our problems, directly or indirectly, is also clear.
“I’m very keen to take on the kingpins, to do everything we can to disrupt their activity.”
Many prisons have been hit by surging levels of violence and drug use in recent years.
Latest figures recorded a record 32,559 assault incidents in the 12 months to June, up 20 per cent from the previous year.