Big rise in drone jail smuggling incidents
Drones have been used to smuggle drugs, mobile phones and other contraband into prisons, figures suggest.
Statistics obtained through a Press Association Freedom of Information request show that in 2013 none of the unmanned aircraft were detected in or around prisons in England and Wales.
This rose to two incidents in 2014 and 33 in 2015 and items discovered include drugs, phones and USB drives.
The Ministry of Justice said incidents involving drones were rare.
Across the incidents, drugs were discovered on at least six occasions, mobile phones more than eight times and a drone itself recovered in 19 instances.
One of the biggest finds listed a drone, drugs, mobile phone, a charger and USB cards at HMP Oakwood in the West Midlands in December last year.
Mike Rolfe, national chairman elect of the Prison Officers Association (POA), said the use of drones to smuggle in banned items was of “serious concern”.
“The POA have long pushed for increased staffing resource to tackle the security issue that drones present,” he said.
“The additional resource should be used to increase operational staffing within establishments, allowing for the recovery of parcels delivered to prisoners by drones through cell checks and prisoner searches.”
The prison with the highest number of drone incidents between 2014 and 2015 was HMP Onley in Northamptonshire, topping the list with four, followed by Lindholme, Ranby and Swansea on three, and Bedford, Wandsworth and Manchester on two.
Her Majesty”s prisons recording one occurrence include Leicester, The Mount, Whatton, Leeds, Eastwood Park, Liverpool, Norwich, Glen Parva, Huntercombe, Wormwood Scrubs, Full Sutton, Guys Marsh, Long Lartin, Bullingdon, Wealstun and Oakwood.
The Ministry of Justice said it takes a “zero tolerance approach to illicit material in prisons”.
“We have introduced new legislation to further strengthen our powers, making it illegal to land a drone in prison or to use a drone to drop in psychoactive substances,” a statement said.
“Anyone found using drones in an attempt to get contraband into prisons can be punished with a sentence of up to two years.”
A report published in December by the HM Inspectorate of Prisons noted that illegal drugs, NPS (legal highs) and illicit medications may get into prisons in a number of ways, meaning it is not always possible to quantify exactly how many drugs are making it into prisons.
The report stated that “easy access to illicit mobile telephones makes it possible to plan the drops carefully”.