Mail & Property Scanners installed in ’10 Jails Project’ Prisons

Prisons have been issued with specialist scanning equipment and detailed instructions on handling incoming mail following a surge in attempts to post drug-laced paper and other contraband to inmates.

Correspondence is being exploited to convey illicit substances and items into establishments, according to an official security briefing seen by the Press Association.

Instances have been reported in all prison regions in England and Wales, and in both the male and female estate.

Finds have included “large amounts” of drugs, tobacco and sim cards, the document circulated by HM Prison & Probation Service says.

It also reveals that some jails have reported chemically laced paper containing household chemicals such as alloy wheel cleaner, insect poison, koi carp sedative and acetone.

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart said scanners which can detect invisible traces of drugs soaked into clothing and paper have been installed at 10 of the most challenging jails.

He said drugs in prison have been a “game-changer”, driving self-harm and extreme violence, adding: “As the methods used to smuggle drugs into prisons continue to evolve, our response to that threat becomes ever more agile and vigilant.”

Smuggling attempts involving mail have come under the spotlight after psychoactive substances such as Spice were identified as a major threat to prison stability.

The drugs, formerly known as “legal highs”, have had a “significant” impact on the safety and security of establishments, the briefing note says.

The official guidance, obtained by the Press Association following a Freedom of Information request, says intelligence continues to suggest that paper laced with psychoactive substances (PS) is being supplied via correspondence.

It states: “The potency of PS paper can vary significantly between batches and even within different sections of a single sheet.

“As our ability to detect herbal PS and interrupt conveyance has improved, prisoners have increasingly sought to convey PS-soaked paper as it is easier to conceal.

“Actual levels of laced paper entering the establishments are not known; however, intelligence reporting indicates that post appears to be the preferred method.”

The briefing, marked “Official”, was issued to governors, security departments and mail room staff in November.

It says: “Whilst it is recognised that mail is one method in which prisoners may receive illicit items, we should not introduce processes that indefinitely treat all such correspondence as suspicious.

“Where justified, we should open, read, and stop mail on a case-by-case basis.”

Staff members who suspect that mail contains illicit items are advised to wear personal protective equipment for health and safety reasons and evidence preservation, the five-page paper says.

Photocopying correspondence and providing prisoners with copies of the original letters may be considered if it is proportionate to the risk posed, the guidance says.

Any establishment that imposes this measure for all post should review the position at least every three months, while legal and confidential mail can only be photocopied if there is “specific intelligence or suspicion”.

The document recommends that prisons communicate with law firms to ensure genuine correspondence is correctly marked, following warnings about the use of bogus legal letters for smuggling attempts.

Where there is a local supplier of newspapers and magazines, jails should consider using more than one to “disrupt potential conveyance activity in this area”.

The document emphasises that “due care should be given not to significantly delay a prisoner’s access to mail, in the interest of ensuring minimal impact on family life”.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “This guidance shows why tackling drugs in prison is more complicated than people sometimes like to think.”

He suggested a straightforward way to reduce the problem would be to give prisoners “controlled access” to electronic communications, adding: “You can’t spray Spice on to an email.”

Mark Leech, Editor of Converse, the largest circulation national monthly prisons newspaper, welcomed the development but said it needed to go much further.

Mr Leech said: “Drugs are a menace in our prisons leading to violence, bullying, self-harm and suicides, anything that reduces the importation into prisons of drugs is to be welcomed.

“But installing scanners in less than 10 per cent of prisons is woefully inadequate, the Prisons Minister needs to get real and install them across the prison estate.

“Prison governors can authorise the opening of mail between inmates and social contacts to check for illicit enclosures, and they also have the power to open legal correspondence, and read it, where there are grounds for believing that it contains illicit enclosures or doesn’t come from a bona fide legal source.”

The latest prison safety statistics will be published at 09.30 today – Thursday 31st January 2019.

£1 Million Paid For Lost Prisoner Property

Prisoners have received more than a million pounds in compensation for lost or damaged property in the last five years, new figures reveal.

Over 13,000 taxpayer-funded payouts have been made since 2013 for items including clothing, trainers, DVD players and hair clippers.

In December, the Press Association revealed that 10,357 compensation payments were issued to inmates held at state prisons in England and Wales for lost and damaged property from 2013-14 to 2016-17.

Six-figure sums were paid out in each of the four years, adding up to £855,541.02.

New statistics obtained from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) following a further Freedom of Information request by the Press Association show 2,666 awards were made in relation to prisoners’ belongings in 2017-18, at a total cost of £220,053.78.

It means £1,075,594.80 has been paid out since 2013, while the number and value of payments went up in the last financial year despite a watchdog highlighting the problem.

Following the latest revelations, the head of the Commons Justice committee called on jails to “sort it out”, while the Prison Service said it successfully defends two thirds of all compensation cases brought by prisoners.

A sample of cases in 2017-18 shows compensation was awarded for damage to tracksuit bottoms (£10), a T-shirt (£3) and a stereo (£150).

In one instance, £8.19 was paid out for “damage” to food “due to lockdown”.

Awards were made for lost property including tobacco (£20.80), a DVD player (£68.99), a watch (£10) and a TV magazine (£0.57).

The earlier FOI response showed hair clippers, a dressing gown and trainers were among lost items covered by successful compensation claims in 2016-17.

There were 41 more compensation awards in 2017-18 compared to the year before and the total amount paid out was nearly £21,000 higher.

Authorised belongings can be held in possession, meaning the prisoner keeps the item on them or in their cell, while excess items can be stored locally at the jail or at a central depot.

Rules allow for inmates to lodge complaints and claims for compensation when property is lost or damaged.

Last year then Prisons and Probation Ombudsman Nigel Newcomen called on the prison service to “get a grip” on the way property is managed.

The issue has also been flagged up by independent monitoring boards at a number of prisons, with one recent report saying the disappearance of property on transfer between establishments seems to be an “intractable” problem.

Conservative MP Bob Neill, who chairs the Commons Justice Committee, said: “This issue has been raised at a number of our recent prison visits, so these figures do not come as a surprise.

“Property is a regular source of complaint to both the Prison and Probation Ombudsman and independent monitoring boards.

“Until prisons properly follow the clear guidance from the Ombudsman, scarce resources, not to mention taxpayers’ money, will continue to be wasted.

“Prisons need to sort it out to ensure that they have an adequate system for property recording.”

John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “This increase in payments to prisoners for lost and damaged property will concern many taxpayers across the country.

“Either the authorities are failing to treat prisoners at a standard they are legally required to, or they’re giving out compensation payments too easily – both at the expense of hard-pressed taxpayers.”

Mark Leech, editor of The Prisons Handbook said it was right that prisoners are compensated for their loss.

Mr Leech said, “Prisoners are not Outlaws, they retain all civil rights not taken away expressly or by implication, and that includes being compensated when either they or their property are injured, damaged or lost at the hands of the State.

“That approach finds its focus in the first sentence, of the first Rule, of the Mandela Rules – originally the UN Minimum Standard Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners: ‘All prisoners shall be treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings.'”

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: “We successfully defend two thirds of all compensation cases brought against us by prisoners.

“Where compensation is awarded, we always seek to ensure that payments are offset against outstanding debts owed to the courts and victims.

“In addition, a programme of work is underway to prevent the causes of claims to allow us to better protect taxpayers’ money.”

“Laughing Stock” Prisons Ombudsman Has Derisory £10 Offer Increased By Judge To Over £800

A triple killer has won £800 in compensation after some of his belongings, including nose hair clippers, cranberry juice and an alarm clock, were lost or broken in prison. – and after he rejected a derisory offer of £10 compensation from the much-criticised Prisons Ombudsman.

Kevan Thakrar, 26, was awarded £500 because prison officers lost “priceless” photographs and personal items – which a judge said was made worse because they did not apologise to him.

Thakrar, from Stevenage, Hertfordshire, is serving three life sentences with a minimum of 35 years behind bars after he and his brother Miran were jailed in 2007 for the gangland-style execution of three drug dealers and two other attempted murders.

In March 2010 he maimed three guards at Frankland Prison in County Durham after stabbing them with a broken battle, but was cleared of two counts of attempted murder and three of wounding with intent, a decision which prompted widespread fury.

Following the attack Thakrar was moved from Frankland to Woodhill Prison in Milton Keynes and it was during this move that some of his possessions were misplaced.

According to the court judgment, detailed on Thakrar’s Facebook page, he was awarded £224.97 for damage to his stereo, alarm clock and nasal clippers.

He was also awarded £90 after items including a carton of cranberry juice, protein powder and toiletries were lost, which he claimed left him “stressed”.

District Judge Neil Hickman said there had been a “somewhat cavalier disregard for Mr Thakrar’s rights and for his property”, and awarded him a further £500 to compensate him for lost photographs and personal items, making £814.97 in total.

The judge added: “Had the defendants said promptly and sincerely to Mr Thakrar that they deeply regretted the loss of his personal items and understood his distress, the loss of them would not have been aggravated in the way that it has been.

“So far from doing that, the ministry has steadfastly failed even to tender the grudging and belated apology which was recommended by the ombudsman.”

The prison ombudsman had originally offered Thakrar £10 in compensation, but the killer took the case to court last year, and District Judge Hickman ruled that he deserved a further payout.

The judge said there had been an “outrageous delay” of 13 months in the ombudsman paying the proposed £10, which he said had “all the appearance of a calculated gesture on the part of the ministry”.

Following the payout Thakrar boasted about it on his Facebook page, saying that he had hoped to send bailiffs to the Ministry of Justice to ensure they paid his compensation.A prison guard who Thakrar attacked condemned the claim as laughable.

Craig Wylde, who was left with a severed artery and damaged nerves, told the Daily Mail:

“It is another case of the prisoner getting everything and the real victims getting nothing.

“He is always trying it on. This is the sort of person he is. He has to complain about everything and thinks he’s a big man because he’s challenging the system. This latest claim will have cost thousands and thousands of taxpayers’ money. It is just totally pathetic.”

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: “We robustly defend all cases as far as the evidence allows.”

Thakrar was first jailed after he and his brother killed Keith Cowell, 52, his son Matthew, 17, and Tony Dulieu, 33, from Essex, at the Cowells’ house in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire.

The men had met at the house to do a cocaine deal, but Miran Thakrar, a small-time drug dealer, was angry that he had been sold poor quality cocaine previously by the Cowells and was out for revenge.

Miran Thakrar shot the family dog and then lined up Keith Cowell, Matthew Cowell and Mr Dulieu, and shot them dead as his brother Kevan looked on.

The brothers also shot and stabbed Ms Jennings and attacked Ms Evans with a knife as she tried to shield her three-year-old daughter.

Mark Leech editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners said the case showed why Prisons Ombudsman, Nigel Newcomen, was so often derided by prisoners who had no faith in his alleged independence.

Mr Leech said: “The Prisons Ombudsman is a joke, a laughing stock, a former senior member of the very prison service he now claims to independently investigate prisoners rightly have no confidence in him.

“Kevan’s crimes have nothing to do with this case, the prison service lost or broke his property and he has the right to be compensated for that – the judge’s comments that the Prisons Ombudsman had made a ‘calculated gesture’ show why its vital that Ombudsmen must never have prior involvement with the organisations they investigate, Nigel Newcomen spent 25 years in the Prison Service latterly as an Assistant Director its crazy to expect him to be independent of it.”