Michael Spurr, the man in charge of prisons in England and Wales, tells Channel 4 News he is dealing with “a very different dynamic in prisons today” but insists prisons are “not out of control”.
Mr Spurr was speaking after a Channel 4 News investigation which revealed that prisoners had been uploading video and still pictures of cash, drugs and a lock knife in their posession to social media sites.
Mr Spurr, the chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, conceded that corrupt prison staff were part of the problem of contraband goods in prisons, and told Channel 4 News that over 100 staff had been disciplined or excluded over the last year, with 34 being convicted of criminal offences for corruption, insisting “we take a no tolerance approach to corruption – we’re looking for it and we’re working with the police to attempt to identify it.”
He said that society had changed a lot, meaning he was having to deal with new threats: “We’re dealing with a very different dynamic now, both with the type of people we receive in prison – gang members in particular – and this phenomenon of synthetic drugs – legal highs – which are widely available and which can be pushed into prison where the market rate is higher for them.”
The question of staff cuts was an issue for the prison service, he agreed, but insisted that “we’re operating in a way that is safe.”
He added that by April 2015 1,700 new staff would have been recruited, with particular focus on addressing staff shortages in prisons in the south east of England.
Latest Ministry of Justice figures show that serious assaults within prisons were at their highest level for 10 years. However Mr Spurr vehemently rejected the idea that prisons were out of control: “The number of violent people in prisons over the last 10 years has increased significantly, therefore a prison cannot be safe all of the time.
“No assault is acceptable – our aim is to run prisons safely… despite the difficulties and pressures we currently face.”