Justice Secretary vows to ‘take on’ criminal kingpins in prisons

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Specialist search teams will spearhead a new crackdown on drugs, mobile phones and weapons in prisons.

More than 100 expert officers are being drafted into adult men’s jails across England and Wales.

They will lead efforts to locate banned items fuelling violence as part of a drive by Justice Secretary David Gauke to “take on” criminal kingpins behind bars.

Officials say staff are locked in a “game of cat and mouse” with inmates, who are adopting increasingly inventive tactics to keep contraband hidden –  such as hollowing out furniture or secreting it in electrical items.

Announcing the new measure, Mr Gauke said: “Dedicated search teams will be deployed across the entire closed adult male estate to effectively bust drug dealers and gangs who trade in contraband in prisons.

“The ability to have people who, day in day out, search cells, know every trick in the book, have seen it all before, is a big advantage.”

The Ministry of Justice is rolling out the units across more than 100 prisons after they were successfully deployed in eight high-security establishments.

The teams act on intelligence from mobile phone detection technology, using search dogs and other specialist search equipment to identify any banned items.

Evidence found through their searches will then be used to support disciplinary action or criminal prosecutions.

The initiative forms part of the Government’s efforts to loosen the grip of gangs and stop crime lords continuing their activities from behind bars.

Authorities estimate there are around 6,500 inmates with links to organised crime in England and Wales.

Mr Gauke said: “It is clearly a significant challenge that we face. The existence of organised crime is clear.

“The evidence that it is at the heart of a lot of our problems, directly or indirectly, is also clear.

“I’m very keen to take on the kingpins, to do everything we can to disrupt their activity.”

Recruitment into the search teams has started and is expected to continue into the new year, the MoJ said. The rollout will cost £4.3 million.

Much of the prisons estate has been hit by surging levels of violence and drug use in recent years.

Latest prison safety figures show there were a record 32,559 assault incidents in the 12 months to June, up 20% from the previous year.

In the 12 months to March, there were 13,119 incidents where drugs were found in prisons – a rise of nearly a quarter (23%) compared to the previous year.

Discoveries of mobile phones are also on the rise, going up by 15% to 10,643 incidents in 2017-18.

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