Four Police and Crime Commissioners in the West Midlands, are presenting to the UK Government a hard-hitting six-month study into crime in prisons after months of research and multi-agency work.
The in-depth look at crime behind bars also presents a future plan for straightforward solutions to tackle criminality across the prisons estate.
Matthew Ellis, Staffordshire’s Commissioner has taken a lead on the work on behalf of all West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioners and visited prisons throughout the region. Staffordshire itself has 8 prisons – one of the highest number of prisons in a single county across the UK.
Mr Ellis commissioned Staffordshire University’s Professor James Treadwell and Dr Kate Gooch, from University of Leicester, both experts in the field, to carry out the in-depth study. They spoke to prisoners, prison governors, staff and multiple agencies throughout the West Midlands over a period of 6 months.
The multi-agency approach in the West Midlands has resulted in all key agencies working together to tackle the systematic and deep-rooted problems and led to the development of a five-point plan to address these.
Government are installing body scanners in some prisons to stop drugs getting into prisons, but the findings of the West Midlands study show that simply sharing information better between the police and prisons can impact significantly.
An information sharing pilot at HMP Dovegate, a Category 2 prison in Staffordshire, resulted in not only identifying prison staff linked with organised crime, but also visitors who were trafficking drugs into the prison. *See below
One of the key recommendations locally is the sharing of information between police and the prisons service, including giving prisons access to the Police National Database (PND).
Staffordshire Commissioner for Police, Fire and Rescue and Crime, Mr Ellis said: “Prisons and police sharing intelligence and data is an ideal example of the simple measures that can be taken to stop organised crime in its tracks.
‘I’m sure many people would be surprised that this does not already happen as a matter of course, but it doesn’t. The pilot at Dovegate showed how easy it should be to stop gang members ever being employed in prisons – somewhere they should never be working”.
The work carried out in the West Midlands has helped develop an approach, which Mr Ellis believes, could be adopted nationally to finally tackle some of the cultural and organisational flaws in the system.
“The problems and issues in prisons have been well-documented for years now, but what we’ve found from this serious study in the West Midlands is that there are some sensible solutions, which could deliver real results in a short timescale,”he said.
“I found all of the people I met during my visits and through confidential inquiry sessions to be dedicated, passionate and committed to improving how prisons function for prisoners and staff.
“They were all working very hard to do their best, but it became clear that no single agency can bring about effective change on their own – its needs to be done together.
“Prisons must be places of law and order, where staff are confident and in control and where criminality is targeted and challenged, not allowed to thrive.”
The recommendations from the work completed to date are focused on five key areas, from ensuring crime doesn’t pay by taking money off criminals to sharing information and intelligence to ensuring vulnerable inmates are protected from those who would use them to bring drugs into prisons.
Vulnerable individuals are deliberately targeted, threatened and coerced into getting themselves recalled shortly after being released with the sole purpose of trafficking drugs and contraband.
The wide-ranging recommendations, will be carried through by a working group of key agencies in the West Midlands in the coming months.
Mr Ellis said: ‘I’m confident these simple, sensible solutions coupled with the dedication of prison staff and partner agencies can see real change in how we approach criminality in prisons. The value of collaborative working should not be underestimated’.
The five-point plan encompasses recommendations, which can be split into the following areas: –
1. Multi-agency working
Making sure that all agencies work better together to develop new ways of working, share best practice, work through barriers and issues and challenge each other to reduce criminality on the prison estate. Sharing information and intelligence is a simple yet effective example of how working better together can have a major impact.
Making sure that vulnerable individuals are protected and safeguarded from being coerced or threatened to bring drugs or other contraband into prisons. Ensuring drug addiction in prisons is addressed through treatment and ongoing support. Creating physical and other barriers to drugs being brought into prisons. Addressing staff corruption through intelligence sharing and recruitment practices.
3. Short term sentences
Carrying on the multi-agency approach to understand why short term sentences are so ineffective at preventing re-offending and developing a local plan to address this, linked to the national work being carried out by the Justice Secretary.
4. Taking money from organised criminals
Ensuring that there is better local use of financial investigation and asset confiscation powers that takes money from criminals. Targeting local police, prison and intelligence resources to create disruption in this area using the powers alongside other interventions that impact on ill-gotten gains. Working with the new national financial investigation unit to maximise impact in the West Midlands.
5. Dealing with crimes in prison:
Making sure that the police, prison staff and staff from other agencies, such as probation work together to address criminal behaviour in prisons themselves. This can incentivise good behaviour, empower prisons to take the right action and ensure that vulnerable inmates are safeguarded and where necessary, redirected.
‘These recommendations set out practical ways to work together to prevent harm, disrupt criminality, protect communities from the effects of re-offending, safeguard vulnerable people and make better use of finite resources.
‘In the West Midlands we’re pledging to deliver significant progress against these recommendations by 2020, which will make a real impact on reducing crime in the regions prisons,’ Mr Ellis concluded.
*The Dovegate pilot identified a woman visitor as a drugs trafficker, who was visiting numerous different inmates and was then banned. Other suspects were identified from intelligence checks on vehicles seen in the vicinity of the prison linked to organised crime and a member of staff was also identified as having links to organised crime and had previously been arrested for conspiracy in relation to crack cocaine. She was dismissed.