Prison watchdogs have slammed the management of Downview Prison in Surrey claiming that senseless cutbacks have resulted in the prison being awash with drugs.

In its annual report ending December 2012 to the Secretary of State for Justice, a copy of which has been seen by Converse, the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) said:

“Our primary concern this year has been the ready availability of illegal drugs in the prison and the National Offender Management Service’s (NOMS) apparent lack of will to ensure that the prison’s management can tackle the issue effectively.”

The IMB revealed that it wasn’t just a lack of resources, but procedures and practices put in place to stem drug flow had been removed in order to make financial savings.

The Board said:

“The prison drug dogs were removed as a cost saving, those who are let out of the prison daily on temporary licence are not routinely searched when they return from daily or weekend release, due we are told to a shortage of staff, and the CCTV camera in the visits hall cannot be used without a warrant issued under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.”

The IMB have revealed that there is no working x-ray machine at the prison which is used to check through postal items sent in to the jail and pose the question: “Is it any wonder that drugs are easy to come by in the establishment?”

The Board complain that due to “the woeful lack of measures” to tackle drugs at the female prison, there has been an increase in bullying among the inmates with intelligence suggesting that there are some 50 drug dealers operating inside the prison, seemingly with impunity, among a total population of some 350 inmates.

Mark Leech, editor of Converse, the national newspaper for prisoners which broke the story said: “This has nothing to do with a prison management that couldn’t care less how much heroin and crack cocaine is awash inside its jail, and everything to do with a NOMS which has been locked inside a financial strait-jacket by the Treasury where savagely reduced resources mean that prisons simply cannot function in any meaningful way.

“It is both tragic and ironic that 15 years ago it was Downview prison that lead the way in terms of prison drug treatment, then it had the lowest positive drug test figures in the country – yet  today as a result of budget cuts the prison drugs pendulum has swung completely the other way.”

The IMB close their report with direct questions to Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Justice:

“What are you going to do to support NOMS and more importantly, management of Downview to effectively deal with this?

“What resources will you make available to that this is tackled in a sustainable way?”

According to the IMB a month after they sent Chris Grayling their report, there has been no reply.

(c) Converse national prisoners’ newspaper 2013