Prison officers ignore use of legal highs and pornography

HMP Rochester
HMP Rochester

Prison staff ignore inmates who are under the influence of “legal highs” in a jail where their use is a major problem, according to a watchdog report published today.

The Times reported drugs had been found at the rate of ten a month, including very large parcels that had been thrown over the wall, at Rochester jail in Kent. Prison inspectors saw inmates who were clearly under the influence of psychoactive substances when they arrived at the 740-inmate jail in September.

Their inspection report said that the use and supply of the substances, such as Spice, was a significant threat to prisoners. Inmates said that it was easier to get them than tobacco.

“There had been 62 drugs finds in the previous six months, including some very large parcels that had been thrown over the wall. During the inspection we observed prisoners obviously under the influence of these substances. However, some staff seemed indifferent to the number of prisoners clearly under the influence of drugs”, the report said.

The availability of so-called legal highs such as Spice was also leading to debt and bullying among inmates: 40 prisoners were held in isolation as they feared for their safety because of debts related to drugs.

Anabolic steroids and illegal buprenorphine (Subutex) had also been detected in drug tests.

Between March and August last year violence had escalated with 18 assaults against staff, 36 against prisoners and 16 fights.

Some had resulted in serious injuries and, in one case, murder.

The report also criticised poor living accommodation after inspectors found dirty cells, broken equipment and laundry facilities that were out of use.

Graffiti and displays of explicit pornography were widespread and some prisoners held in the segregation unit were living in squalid conditions. One prisoner had been left overnight in a cell with a blocked sink and toilet and another in a cell that had been damaged by fire, the report said.

Inspectors said staff too often failed to challenge poor behaviour by prisoners. “We observed prisoners swearing and smoking freely on landings, prisoner cleaners failing to work, without challenge by staff, and pictures contravening the offensive displays policy that were not dealt with.”

Nick Hardwick, the chief inspector of prisons, said the jail had gone through big changes but had not made the progress hoped for.

“We were told of plans for the future but our overriding impression was that it was a prison that just needed to focus on the basics.

“A robust drug strategy, cleaning the prison up, getting prisoners to work on time and some joined-up thinking about their approach to resettling prisoners would be good places to start,” he said.

Michael Spurr, the chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, said: “As the chief inspector has found, Rochester faces a significant challenge from new psychoactive substances, or so called legal highs.

“Staff are determined to tackle this and have already put in place additional security measures, as well as increasing awareness about the dangers and extending support to overcome substance misuse issues.”

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