EXCL Labour hits out as 'alarming' figures reveal prison drug hauls have doubled since 2017
Labour has torn into the Government after "alarming" figures revealed that the number of drugs found in prisons has almost doubled in the last two years.
Statistics released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) on the day Boris Johnson gave his first Commons statement as Prime Minister also show sharp increases in the number of weapons, mobile phones and alcohol discovered in jails.
Incidents of Class A substance use in prison has increased five-fold since 2017, with Labour joinining campaigners from the Howard League for Penal Reform in blaming cuts to staff.
The annual prisons digest for England and Wales - which covers the 12 months leading up to March 2019 - reveals there were a total of 18,435 drug-related incidents over the year, an increase of 41% over the previous period. A decade ago the figure was 4,774.
At HMP Birmingham, which was taken back into public hands from the private firm G4S after being labelled as in a "state of crisis” by the chief inspector of prisons, there were 337 drug finds in 2018/19.
That contrasts with just two in 2010/11 and in 2011/12.
The MoJ claims that the figures show that security measures designed to tackle contraband in prison are working.
They point to an extra 300 prison dogs trained in drugs detection, £7 million spent on security scanners, and specialist search teams sent into jails across the country to seize banned items.
However, the spikes revealed by the figures are stark, with 716 instances of drugs being found at Durham prison last year - up from 340 the year before and just 61 in 2016/17.
And it is not just illegal substances being discovered, with the Government’s own report admitting: “Find incidents for weapons, alcohol, tobacco and distilling equipment continue to rise.
“There were 5,909 finds incidents for tobacco; a percentage increase of 127% compared with the previous 12 month period.”
Discoveries of booze in cells went up year-on-year by 47%, to 6,484 incidents, while there were 444 finds of distilling equipment, up 49%.
The number of weapons found has meanwhile doubled since 2017 to hit almost 10,000 in the 12 months to March of this year, with the highest number found at one prison hitting 360 at HMP Swaleside, almost one a day for the past year.
The number of contraband mobile phones has continued to rise steeply year on year, hitting 11,448 in 2018/19, having been at 3,928 five years previously.
Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon told PoliticsHome: “These alarming figures underline the scale of the crisis in our prisons.
“The Conservatives’ cuts agenda has seen prison budgets and staff numbers slashed leading to record levels of violence and undermining order in our prisons.”
He said the scale of the problem shows “tinkering around the edges” will not be enough, and called on the new Government to "urgently come up with plan and the funds to stop our prisons being a danger to officers, inmates and wider society.”
Meanwhile Andrew Neilson from the prison campaign group the Howard League told this site: “The rising number of drugs, alcohol and mobile phone confiscations is a symptom of the problems in a prison system that has been asked to do too much with too little for too long.”
He called for “bold but sensible action to reduce the prison population”, and added: “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.”
A spokesperson for Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service said ministers were putting an additional 4,700 prison officers on the frontline to deal with those issues.
They added: “We have taken decisive action to bolster security, strengthening our efforts to stop contraband from entering our prisons and helping us find more illicit items than ever before.
“It is encouraging that positive drug testing results are beginning to decrease, as our security measures help remove drugs from our prisons.”