Drug finds in Leeds Prison rocket over five years

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The number of drugs including spice found by prison staff in Leeds Prison has rocketed over the last five years.

Prison reform charity the Howard League says that the increase in contraband, including drugs and mobile phones, in English and Welsh prisons reflects wider failings in the penal system.

HM Leeds Prison, Armley.

HM Leeds Prison, Armley.

In the 12 months to March 2018, 456 searches uncovered drugs within Leeds prison - five times more than five years ago.

Over the same period, 31 percent of the mandatory drug tests conducted in HMP Leeds returned a positive result, figures from the Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service show.

In total, inmates failed 206 of the 669 tests conducted in the institution.

For the first time this year, the figures include psychoactive substances such as spice, the abuse of which has increasingly become a concern for prison staff. Excluding them, 12 percent of tests returned a positive result for so-called traditional drugs, such as cannabis and methadone – a 41 percent increase on the rate five years ago.

The most common single drug type found to have been taken in Leeds was psychoactive substances, which was found in 74 percent of samples.

The situation in Leeds reflects the national picture, where 20 percent of all drug tests carried out in prisons in England and Wales were positive – meaning more than 11,000 samples were returned showing drug use.

Andrew Neilson, the campaigns director at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said that the finds of drugs and other contraband – including mobile phones, 190 of which were found in Leeds over the last year – were symptomatic of wider problems in the prison system.

He said: “The rising number of drugs and mobile phone confiscations is a symptom of the problems in an overburdened and under-resourced prison system that is failing the public.

“Where there is drug abuse there is also debt and violence, and these problems have become more severe in prisons across England and Wales as overcrowding and staff shortages have taken their toll.

“The best way to reduce the supply of drugs into prisons is to reduce the demand for them. This means ensuring that prisons are properly resourced and prisoners are occupied with purposeful activity, such as work, education, training and exercise.

“Above all, we need to see bold but sensible action to reduce the prison population. This would save lives, protect staff and prevent more people being swept away into deeper currents of crime and despair.”

Earlier this week, conditions in England and Wales’s prisons were highlighted when HMP Birmingham was taken into government control from private contractors G4S.

Widespread drug use was reported, with three recent fatalities thought to be linked to psychoactive substance abuse.

Reacting to the national numbers, Justice Secretary David Gauke said: “New psychoactive substances (NPS) are a game changer for prison safety, and these statistics reinforce the scale of the challenge.

“We are addressing this head on, and our £7 million investment in prison security will further bolster defences via airport-security style scanners, improved searching techniques and phone-blocking technology.

“We are also adopting pioneering approaches such as our ‘Drug Recovery Prison’ pilot at HMP Holme House, which is leading the way in tackling the supply of drugs and putting offenders on a long-term path to recovery.”