By Rafi Mauro-Benady
Staff are cashing in on opportunities created by the coronavirus pandemic to smuggle drugs and mobile phones into Wandsworth prison, according to a concerned inmate.
Using a smuggled smartphone, the inmate, who wished to remain anonymous, accused some members of staff of smuggling, and ignoring Covid-19 protocols.
But a prison officers’ union leader refuted the inmate’s claims of inadequate Covid precautions and strenuously denied that staff are the main conduit for smuggling.
The inmate said drugs are typically smuggled in through prison visits, but they’ve been stopped, so there’s been a shortage of illegal drugs in the jail.
But he claimed that a few members of staff still bring in mobiles and the drug spice because it is so lucrative to do so.
The inmate said: “Mostly the drugs come in on visits but as they are stopped because of Covid there’s only really spice coming in because the staff obviously feel drugs are too risky to carry when they can get around £600 to £800 for bringing in a phone and the spice just looks like sheets of paper.”
The inmate also accused prison officers of negligence in their handling of the pandemic.
He claims that staff were banned from wearing masks until little more than a month ago, and that they also choose not to quarantine new prisoners for two weeks.
He said: “Staff were not allowed to wear face masks all throughout this pandemic, and only about four weeks ago they decided masks are now mandatory.
“They have one landing which they use to quarantine new inmates for two weeks before they go into the general population.
“They (staff) have guidelines set out which they must follow, but some staff don’t care and will allow new prisoners to be placed in holding cells with existing prisoners when they are waiting for video links and things like that.
“An example of this carelessness was from a couple of weeks ago – 10 of us were brought out for court appearances and when we returned to the prison that evening they put four new guys in the same small cell as the 10 of us, even though we would then be returning to our normal wings and the new guys must be quarantined for two weeks before they can go to normal wings.”
The prisoner claimed he had also been told about a stabbing in a cell nearby in the past few days.
But a Ministry of Justice spokesman denied accusations of weak Covid protocols, and claimed the prison has taken significant steps to reduce smuggling.
They said: “Carefully implemented measures – including quarantining new arrivals, rolling out mass testing and introducing safe regimes – have undoubtedly limited the spread of the virus.
“We have strengthened security at Wandsworth and a new x-ray scanner is helping to stop drugs and mobile phones from getting in.”
National chairman of the Prison Officers Association, Mark Fairhurst, disputes the inmate’s claims.
He insisted that “staff are not necessarily the main route in,” when it comes to phone smuggling.
He added: “Mobile phones do get in and everyone immediately thinks it’s staff- it’s an easy accusation to make. It’s very difficult to prove or disprove.
“Without a doubt in the prison service as a whole, we have had corrupt staff in the past.
“We have rigid security systems in place to identify who those staff are, and they are prosecuted with the full weight of the law.
“We x-ray mail that comes in, we have searching procedures that searches all mail as it comes in.
“All staff are searched as they are coming in and out of the prison.
“We also have systems in place where we search all vehicles entering and leaving the establishment.
“And of course we have patrols that walk around and pick up packages and everything else that has been thrown over the fences.”
Mr Fairhurst also added that there are additional systems in place to stop drug smuggling, be it via post or drones.
He said: “They’ve upgraded the ‘through the gates’ security system – for example we have dogs who search the mail.
“We also have a system where we put (envelopes) through an analyser and that will tell if it’s covered in drugs as well.”
The inmate’s claims come after three smugglers were found guilty last October at Kingston Crown Court of using a drone to fly phones and drugs into HMP Wandsworth.
When it comes to the pandemic Mr Fairhust conceded that some prisoners have slipped through the net, and occasional mistakes have been made by staff surrounding Covid measures.
He said: “That’s not necessarily saying that there has not been the odd incident – for example where a person who hasn’t been isolated has come into contact with someone who is isolated.”
Mr Fairhust added: “We also have netting across the exercise yard to reduce the amount of throw-overs and also the use of drones.”
He also denied the inmate’s claims of subpar Covid precautions.
He said: “The Prison Officers Association have advocated the wearing of face masks since the outbreak in March.
“Public Health England and Public Health Wales have been advising Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and risk assessed our prisons deciding at that time the mandatory wearing of face masks was not necessary.
“We now have more robust procedures in place and high risk areas of our prisons and outbreak sites mandate face masks.”
He also insisted that there are quarantine measures taken when new inmates arrive, but admitted that not all new arrivals are isolated.
He said: “Not necessarily every prisoner is immediately isolated. If they come from another prison, if they’ve done the isolation at the other prison then there’s no requirement to be isolated again.
“If they’ve come from the prison to the courts, they will not necessarily isolate at that point, but Wandsworth has no greater risk than any other prison in the country.”
A recent Freedom of Information request by The Guardian to the Ministry of Justice showed that 12 staff members nationwide were convicted last year for being in possession of prohibited items.
Pictured top: Wandsworth prison
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