Airport-style scanners to tackle ‘inventive’ drug-smuggling prisoners

Airport-style scanners will help combat the “inventive” ways that inmates smuggle drugs into prisons, MPs were told.

Prisons minister Lucy Frazer told the Justice Committee on Tuesday that the Ministry of Justice was in the process of deciding which prisons should receive the new machines, but she could not confirm a timetable.

The plan was announced earlier this year.

She said: “We’re currently looking at which prisons we should categorise as potential prisons to receive them and then we’re looking at planning issues, because you have to have the physical space in which to put these.

“We’re mainly looking at category B prisons, but we haven’t announced yet where they will go.”

Ms Frazer said that despite the planned investment in the scanners, the department would not become “complacent” about drug searches.

“If we put in a scanner, things will not suddenly be OK because prisoners are inventive, and if they are stopped going through the entrance they will get drugs in some other way.

“So we recognise we have to look at a number of ways.

HMP Hewell
HMP Hewell in Worcestershire (Richard Vernalls/PA)

“We have shown a reduction in drugs in the 10 prisons project and part of that is to do with the scans.”

She said that during recent visits to northern prisons she had seen successful examples of scanners being used.

“In Liverpool, they don’t have a scanner at the moment, but when people were coming back on recall, instead of bringing them straight back to Liverpool they took them to a neighbouring prison that did.

“They (the prisoners) weren’t expecting to be scanned and 50% of people going through that other scanner had drugs.

“Leeds said after they’d brought in the scanner, drugs through reception fell. So we know that these mechanisms will work but we have to be vigilant,” she said.

The committee also asked the prisons minister about the future of Victorian prisons under the estate transformation programme but she said there were no further plans for closures.

Last week it was announced a country house built in the 19th century which forms part of HMP Hewell in Worcestershire and holds some 200 prisoners would be shut down because it was “not fit for use”.

Inmates were found living in squalor and conditions were described by the chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, as “the worst I have seen in this type of establishment”.

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