Justice Minister says criminal kingpins to be targeted in prisons crackdown, drugs and mobiles a challenge to govt

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LONDON: Prisoners with gang links could be transferred into higher-security jails under plans to choke off the influence of criminal kingpins behind bars. Justice Secretary David Gauke is weighing up a major change to rules underpinning decisions on where inmates are held as part of a drive to stem the flow of drugs, mobile phones and other contraband into the prison estate.

Justice Secretary David Gauke

Currently prisoners are assigned security categories according to their sentence length and escape risk. Those at the highest levels are held in establishments or wings with more restrictive regimes. Inmates can be moved during their sentence if their categorisation is raised or downgraded. Under the proposals being examined by the Government, a new factor – the risk of continuing criminality in prison – would be taken into account when determining security categories.
If adopted, the move would be a “critical tool” in helping cut off kingpins from directing illegal activity both inside and outside prison, officials said. Authorities estimate there are approximately 6,500 offenders in prison in total associated with organised crime -roughly equivalent to one in every 13 inmates. In his first major speech on prisons since his appointment in January, Mr Gauke will warn new technologies have “empowered” smuggling gangs to be more “sophisticated and brazen” in their methods. He will describe how criminals have used drones to fly contraband to specific cell windows and even coated children’s paintings in psychoactive substances.
Mr Gauke will say: “From the conventional to the cunning, by design or device, through fear or intimidation, these criminal gangs will stop at nothing to maintain their access to such a lucrative market. The power wielded by criminal groups in prisons has come under the spotlight as much of the estate has been hit by surging levels of violence and instability. In one case, drones were used to smuggle items including mobile phones and drugs with an estimated value of up to £1.2 million into jails across the country.
The availability of drugs in prisons, in particular substances previously known as legal highs, has repeatedly been highlighted as assaults and self-harm increased to record levels. Mobile phones are also seen as a major challenge amid concerns they are used to facilitate more crime and intimidate victims from behind bars. In 2016, prison staff seized 225kg of illicit drugs, 13,000 mobile phones and 7,000 SIM cards.