THOUSANDS of extra prison guards will be hired and “no fly zones” imposed over jails in a drive to tackle the “toxic cocktail” of drugs, drones and mobile phones behind bars.
The news was announced as new figures revealed that Violence has soared at HMP Leeds, with an average of 32 assaults on prisoners and staff every month.
At at HMP Lindholme near Doncaster, more than a kilo of new psychoactive substances - which produce similar effects to illegal drugs like cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy - and dozens of mobile phones were seized in a single month.
Offenders nationwide will be tested for drugs on entry and exit from prison as part of sweeping reforms aimed at halting the rising tide of violence and substance abuse across the estate in England and Wales.
Justice Secretary Liz Truss will today announce an extra 2,500 prison officers to strengthen the frontline.
Dwindling staff numbers have previously been highlighted by campaign groups and unions. The new surge, which includes an additional 400 personnel announced last month, will be focused on staffing categories which currently total around 18,000 officers.
Other measures to be explored include action to combat drones dropping drugs and other items into prison grounds.
Figures have revealed increasing numbers of incidents involving the use of remotely-controlled devices for smuggling contraband into jails.
One of the proposals understood to be under consideration is a trial with industry to test whether co-ordinates of prisons could be built into drone technology so that the devices are repelled from flying over jails.
All inmates will face mandatory drugs testing on arrival and departure from prison, while 300 sniffer dogs have been trained to detect psychoactive substances, which have been identified as a factor behind surging incidents of violence.
The Government is working with mobile phone operators to block illegal use of handsets by inmates.
In a speech on Thursday, Ms Truss will say: “These extra officers and new safety measures will help us crack down on the toxic cocktail of drugs, drones and mobile phones that are flooding our prisons, imperilling the safety of staff and offenders and thwarting reform.”
The shake-up will also target re-offending rates, which see more than 100,000 crimes committed annually by ex-prisoners - costing society £15 billion a year.
Offenders’ levels in English and maths will be tested so their progress on the inside can be measured, with the results published in new prison league tables.
Ms Truss is expected to say: “It is absolutely right that prisons punish people who commit serious crimes by depriving them of their most fundamental right: liberty.
“However our re-offending rates have remained too high for too long. So prisons need to be more than places of containment - they must be places of discipline, hard work and self-improvement.
“They must be places where offenders get off drugs and get the education and skills they need to find work and turn their back on crime for good.”
Plans to give governors more powers over education, work and health budgets will also be outlined.
If a jail is found to be failing by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, the Justice Secretary will have a new legal duty to intervene.
The reform package is expected to reiterate the Government’s commitment to a £1.3 billion building programme to replace the most dilapidated facilities and create 10,000 modern prison places.
Plans to shut Victorian prisons were outlined last year, but only HMP Holloway in north London has so far been confirmed as facing closure.
HMP Wellingborough, a former Category C prison for adult men in Northamptonshire which shut in 2012, will be confirmed as the first site earmarked for potential redevelopment under the modernisation drive.
Rising levels of violence have prompted a flurry of warnings about the state of prisons, with figures showing there are 65 assaults behind bars every day.
Ms Truss will present her strategy for prison reform after a string of warnings about the state of jails in England and Wales.
FINDINGS OF INSPECTION REPORTS PUBLISHED THIS YEAR INCLUDED:
• Violence soared at HMP Leeds with an average of 32 assaults on prisoners and staff every month
• More than a kilo (2.2lbs) of new psychoactive substances (NPS) and dozens of mobile phones were seized at HMP Lindholme in a single month.
• Inmates at HMP Bedford claimed it was easier to get drugs than clothes or bedsheets
• Nearly half of prisoners at HMP Chelmsford in Essex said it was “easy” to get drugs, while the jail had also seen rising levels of violence
• Levels of violence at HMP Swaleside on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent were “far too high”, with many of the incidents serious
• HMP Wormwood Scrubs was described as rat-infested and overcrowded, with prisoners spending most of their time holed up in squalid cells
• Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said in his annual report that too many jails have become “unacceptably violent and dangerous places”.