Justice Secretary: ‘Target organised crime and cut off gangs’ ability to do business in our prisons’

Prisoners return from their jobs to their wings for lunch at Wandsworth prison. Pic by Andy Aitchison

David Gauke used his first major speech as Justice Secretary to highlight the growing despair in Britain’s prisons. Speaking at the Royal Society of Arts earlier this week, Gauke pledged to crack down on organised criminal gangs operating out of prisons. The speech raised the possibility of categorising more criminally inclined prisoners into more secure prisons.

He detailed the ‘terrifying and debilitating impact’ caused by drugs smuggled into prisons by these gangs and criminals. In particular, the psychoactive substance Spice, which could be ordered with a ‘Deliveroo-style’ responsiveness on tiny mobile phones from prison cells and delivered by drones direct to cell windows.’ ‘[A video] shows a prisoner climbing into a tumble dryer in the prison laundry room. Other prisoners then turn the machine on and he is spun around inside – a dangerous act of humiliation to ‘earn’ himself some more Spice.’

He further outlined the ‘enormous toll on the mental health of prisoners’ quoting a figure of 42,837 incidents of self-harm in prisons nationwide.

Gauke, the fifth Justice Secretary in less than three years, used the speech to unveil several plans to curb the harmful effects of such organised crime. For example, an investment of £14 million to be spent on tackling the threat, which includes the establishment of new teams of officers focused on the prevention of serious crime.

Technologies that will assist officers to more quickly and readily disrupt the process of smuggling will be installed in 30 prisons.

And a cross-government group of senior ministers ‘to work across all relevant departments to reduce re-offending and the £15 billion cost of reoffending’ was also announced.

This speech came following a number of high profile reports into prison mismanagement (here). Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, Richard Burgon, responding to Gauke’s speech said Tory cuts to staff and budgets had ‘created the dire situation in our prisons. Since the so-called Government recruitment drive began, one in five prisons has seen a further fall in prison officer numbers’. ‘It is even worse at high security prisons, where a third have fewer prisons officers than one year ago,’ he added.

This article was first published on Friday, March 9 2018





Author: Calum McCrae

Calum is presently working at the California Innocence Project. He was previously an intern at the University of Greenwich’s Innocence Project London. He volunteers as a Justice Gap reporter

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