18 Dec 2015

Spice pigs, catapults and prison: drugs now ‘most serious’ safety threat

The chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, has warned that the availability of synthetic psychoactive drugs presents the most serious threat to the safety and security of jails in England and Wales.

Evidence collated from 61 prison inspections and a survey of more than 10,000 prisoners reveals the problem of psychoactive substances, specifically synthetic cannabis, known as Spice or Black Mamba, is accelerating.

Mr Hardwick, in his last major report, reveals some cases where prisoners are being used as “spice pigs” to test new strands of synthetic cannabis, which is legal. It can be sprayed on to paper and is virtually undetectable.


He says ambulances have been called so often to some prisons they have, with a nod to the drug’s nickname, become known as “mambulances”, and have put a strain on emergency services to surrounding local communities.

The use of these drugs has been linked directly to 19 prison deaths in two and a half years and the report states these drugs are one of the main factors behind rising levels of prison violence.

Prison inspectors found that there are a variety of supply methods, including catapults (pictured) with the drugs inserted into tennis balls, and even drones to drop supplies into prison compounds.

They also discovered some prisoners deliberately get recalled with the drugs hidden about their bodies.

Inspectors have called for urgent action to reduce supply, and say that the Prisons Minister should set up a national committee to address the problems.

A Prison Service spokesperson said:  “We take a zero tolerance approach to drugs in prison and there are already a range of robust measures in place to detect drugs, including the use of sniffer dogs, searches of cells and mandatory drugs tests.

“We recently introduced tough new laws which will see those who smuggle packages over prison walls, including drugs, face up to two years in prison.

“Those who involve themselves in the distribution of drugs in our prisons should know that they will face prosecution and extra time behind bars.”

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