The UK government has put together a special unit tasked with combating the issue of drones delivering contraband to prisons in response to an increase in the incidences of drones being used to drop off drugs and mobiles phones into jail grounds.
Over the past few years, there has been a marked increase in drone-related incidences in UK prisons.
Records show that there were 33 instances where the remote-controlled flying devices were detected in and around jail grounds in 2015.
This was up from the two incidences reported in 2014. In November 2016, The UK Ministry of Justice confirmed that there was a significant increase over the year.
Recently, drones were employed in attempts to traffic contraband worth approximately 48,000 British Pounds into prisons.
It could be safe to assume that there may be even more cases of drone-based smuggling of drugs in the coming years. As such, the special unit’s formation was a necessary move.
The unit will be comprised of prison and police officers who will collaborate with several law enforcement agencies and HM’s Prison and Probation Service.
The officers will be in charge of inspecting drones that have been recovered from jail grounds, and through these efforts, the persons responsible for smuggling the drugs can be identified and tracked down.
The task force will rely on information sourced from prisons in the UK and police departments to come up with inquiry lines. Organized crime officers and local forces can then act based on this intelligence.
The crackdown also aims to tackle the issue of violence and self-harm in UK prisons that was witnessed in the recent riots. One of the contributing factors to this problem is the usage of drugs.
Two recently released prisoners, Mark Sutton and Luke Chilvers, opened up about the situation with drugs in prison during an interview.
They confirmed that drugs (spice, in particular) are being smuggled by drones on a regular basis. The drugs were delivered to inmates’ windows in Pringle packets.
Luke Chilvers was incarcerated at HMP Pentonville, North London.
He stated that the prison officers were overwhelmed with the usage of the synthetic drugs in the prison.
Sutton attributed the current situation to the cuts the government has made to prison budgets.
This meant that some prisons have very low guard-to-inmate ratios.
In such scenarios, it is nearly impossible to combat the problem of drugs and other contraband. The creation of the new unit seeks to bring much-needed assistance to the department of corrections.
However, this move has not been received positively across the board. Mike Rolfe, the national chairperson of the Prison Officers Association, has termed the developments a publicity stunt and a red herring.
In an interview with BBC Radio’s Today program, he said that the move was the government’s way of removing attention away from the fact that UK jails are in sub-par condition.
The two aforementioned prisoners listed a number of problems besides drugs that they faced behind bars. These included staff cutbacks, cell overcrowding, and violent attacks. It would seem like Rolfe’s statements have some truth.
He stated that the government is investing around 3 million GBP into the special unit, which to him seems like a small amount.
Another major contributing factor to the problem of drugs, that has somehow has not garnered much attention, is staff corruption.
John Podmore claimed that a significant percentage of the drugs smuggled into prisons were smuggled by prison staff. Podmore is the former head of the anti-corruption unit for prison service.
Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah acknowledged the threat that drones pose to prison safety. He stated that prison officers were dedicated to ensuring that the smuggling of drugs into prison was stemmed.
Gyimah did not mince his words, adding that perpetrators will be tracked down and prosecuted accordingly. The Ministry of Justice shared the same sentiments and promised significant sentences to persons caught flying drones into prison grounds.