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Drones: Prisons

Volume 630: debated on Tuesday 31 October 2017

Drones are a threat but also an opportunity for our prisons. Where they are a threat, we are absolutely determined to tackle the organised crime groups who use them. In terms of the opportunities, the prison service is investing in drones to proactively manage large-scale incidents as our eyes and ears to improve our intelligence and allow us to respond more effectively and swiftly.

My hon. Friend will know that technology moves ever faster, day by day. Can he assure me that HMP Guys Marsh in my constituency will have access to the relevant funds to have the technologies in place to combat the use of drones and mobile telephones?

Absolutely. Guys Marsh will benefit from the £2 million pot being used to invest in mobile phone detection technology. An additional £3 million is being invested in a national intelligence team to help to tackle serious and organised crime. This will allow us to deal with serious and organised crime in our prisons and in our communities. We will be working with the Home Office on this project to improve prison security and social reform.

In April 2017, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Prison Service in Northern Ireland set up a special unit to address the delivery of drugs, mobile phones and contraband into prisons using drones. Has the Minister considered setting up such a unit? Has he also considered a radio blocker that would prevent drones entering prison property?

Absolutely. As I said, we have an intelligence unit dealing with organised crime in our prisons in a very concerted way across the estate. We are doing that alongside investing in anti-drone and mobile phone detection technology. Bringing this together will mean that we are able to deal with the threat that drones pose across the prison estate and, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), in the community. Organised crime is not just in the prison estate, but often in the community.

Approximately 200 kg of drugs were smuggled into the England and Wales prison estate last year. Exactly what proportion does the Minister believe was smuggled in with the use of drones, and what specific support is he giving to HMP Bristol in Horfield in my constituency to help to deal with it?

It is difficult to tell exactly what proportion was brought in by drones. We do not know how many drones are successful; we know only those that are unsuccessful. We know that drones are a very serious and emerging threat because of the load they can carry into our prisons. Dealing with drugs in prisons is not just about our counter-drone strategy, but the overall illicit economy in prisons as a whole: mobile phones, which help to facilitate it; cracking down on corruption, where it exists, in the supply chain; and working with law enforcement. There is no single way to deal with it; we are going to do all those things across the piece to crack down.