Organised criminals are behind the steady flow of spice that is making its way into prisons and the best the authorities can hope to do is limit it.
That’s the view of Barrie Meakin, the chairman of the Independent Monitoring Board tasked with reviewing standards at HMP Leeds.
As our week-long series on spice draws to a close, we take a look at how the drug has been getting into the jail and the problems that has created.
Mr Meakin, who has been on the board for around a decade now, told the YEP: “At the moment, from what I know, an A4 piece of paper that’s been soaked in spice liquid is worth around £1,000. The drugs are far more expensive within the prison than they are on the outside – it’s big business.
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“It’s not just somebody doing a bit of dealing within the prison, it’s organised crime groups arranging the deals.”
Late last year, the board wrote to the prisons minister to raise specific concerns about the “evidently ready availability” of psychoactive substances such as spice and the “caustic impact” this was having on the prison population and staff.
It said serious incidents related to psychoactive substances had risen from an average of 3.9 per week between May and August 2015 to eight per week in the same period in 2017.
But it also applauded the action being taken, including perimeter patrols, increased use of dogs, personnel searches and targeted cell searches.
Mr Meakin said: “A few years ago it was effectively coming over the wall or prisoners used to throw lines out over the wall and then drugs were attached and pulled into the prison.
“After that, it was coming via various things such as tennis balls or even a dead pigeon. They’d hollow it out, put the drugs inside and throw it over.”
Measures such as netting over the exercise yards and windows have helped to combat that, but criminals determined to find ways to smuggle in drugs are constantly finding new methods.
READ: New blitz on drugs and violence at two troubled Leeds prisons
While the chemicals used to create spice are typically sprayed onto dried banana leaves, they can be soaked onto any material which users could then smoke or ingest.
“It’s been coming in on paper that has been soaked in the liquid,” Mr Meakin said. “Leeds is a non-smoking prison but, of course, they can still vape. What they do is they adapt the vape machines to take pieces of the paper and they smoke it.”
To combat this, work has begun to develop a vape machine which disintegrates as soon as it takes anything else other than the designed cartridge.
Prisoners are also now given photocopies of letters instead of the originals. This extends to legal letters after it became apparent that those sending in the drug were using headed paper to pose as legitimate solicitors.
Mr Meakin said the situation had already improved since last year, with drugs getting into the prison less frequently.
Where there were four or five medical call-outs each day for people overdosing on spice, it is now closer to one or two.
“This, of course, is only prisoners who are overdosing on spice,” he said. “There are others who don’t require medical assistance.”
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He stressed the prison was not rife with drugs and only a small number took spice, but this still created problems such a violence linked to drug debts.
Further reducing the availability of spice and other drugs could lessen this and the wider disruption caused when officers and medical staff must deal with spice-related incidents.
Mr Meakin said: “I never see the problem being cured, but I do see it being controlled. There will always be a way of getting spice into prisons, I’m sure; it’s just about the prisons trying to get one step ahead of the organised criminals.”