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Drug Smuggling into Prisons

Volume 703: debated on Tuesday 9 November 2021

What steps have been taken to ensure that state-of-the-art X-ray body scanners have been installed throughout the male prison estate, and that we are harnessing the best available technology to help our prisons to become places of rehabilitation rather than addiction to drugs?

My hon. Friend is right to ask that question. Since 2019, the Government have invested more than £100 million in prison security. We have installed 74 X-ray body scanners, which has resulted in more than 10,000 positive scans. I recently visited HMP Highdown and saw the equipment in action. It has stopped 100 smuggling attempts in the last year alone, involving drugs, weapons and mobile phones, and it allows that prison to operate safely.

Prison staff have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to keep the prison population safe. They are also key to preventing instances of drug smuggling in our prisons. What is my right hon. Friend doing to support and resource their important work?

On top of the investment and the scanners, we have the Prisons (Substance Testing) Act 2021, which gives prison officers the powers to test prisoners for any psychoactive substance. We also now have enhanced gate security at 35 high-priority sites, and fixed and portable mobile phone blocking equipment to give officers all the tools that they need to keep their prisons safe.

I speak as co-chair of the justice unions parliamentary group. Drugs in prisons cause chaos, putting immense strain on prison officers, and such stress is a factor in the prison staffing crisis. This year, 134 band 3 officers left HMP Berwyn. Each officer’s training had cost £13,000; that is £1.74 million of public money wasted. Does the Secretary of State agree that implementing the recommendations of the pay review body is a key part of the solution to the crisis, and that good prison staff deserve proper wages?

The right hon. Lady is right to raise that issue. It is important to consider not just the technology that we have been talking about, which helps to keep prisons safe, but the men and women who—day in, day out, at considerable risk to themselves and under considerable pressure—do such an excellent job. She asked about the independent pay review body; this year we have accepted its recommendations, which is critically important and only right.

In the past, and perhaps even in the present, a great many drugs and other items have been smuggled into prisons by means of drones. Can the Secretary of State give any indication of what has been done to stop that happening, and thereby stop prisoners’ access to those items?

I was up at Glen Parva recently to look at one of the new state-of-the-art prisons. There, and across the prison estate, we are introducing improved cell windows, netting and other physical upgrades, as well as technology, to counter the threat of drones.