4 May 2011

Prison service admits ‘considerable’ staff corruption threat

Home Affairs Correspondent

As a prison officer in London is jailed for two years for corruption, Channel 4 News obtains an internal prison service document warning about the scale of the threat.

Prison officer guilty of corruption Mohammed Mirza sentenced to 2 years

Mohammed Mirza, a 24 year-old who worked as a prison officer at Feltham Young Offenders Insititute, was sentenced at Southwark Crown Court for conspiring with a prisoner and the prisoner’s mother to smuggle three mobile phones into the prison.

Mirza stood to gain £500 for his efforts – a prison officer’s starting salary is £17,187.

His case is just one example of a corruption problem which is affecting prisons across England and Wales.

Channel 4 News has obtained an internal prison service document which gives one of the most candid assessments yet of the scale of the threat. The document titled ‘Prison Drugs Supply Reduction – A Good Practice Guide’ was obtained by think-tank Policy Exchange through a Freedom of Information request.

The unpalatable but inevitable conclusion is that corrupt staff constitutes a significant supply route for drugs into prisons. Prison service report

In a chapter headed ‘Staff Corruption’, the prison service admits the threat of corruption of prison staff is “considerable”. The report says: “Research consistently indicates that the most common types of staff corruption are the trafficking of drugs and mobile phones and that the scale of the threat is considerable.

“The unpalatable but inevitable conclusion is that corrupt staff constitutes a significant supply route for drugs into prisons.”

'Minuscule' problem
Steve Gillan, General Secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, told Channel 4 News the problem was "minuscule", but stressed that his members remained vigilant.

"I would accept that there is a problem, but I don't believe the problem is widespread, I actually believe the problem is minuscule," he said.

"I would say it's the same as any professional organisation - you're always going to have those individuals who are corrupt. Yes, there have been convictions in the last three years and my union welcomes that - for the reason we do not want anybody who is corrupt because they place prisoners and their own colleagues in danger."

Tackling the problem

The Ministry of Justice gave Channel 4 News figures which they say show they are tackling the problem.

In the last three years, 92 prison staff have been dismissed, 78 convicted, and 167 staff who work for other agencies within the prison service have been excluded from such work.

A unit within the Metropolitan Police was set up three years ago to deal exclusively with prison corruption issues in London: the first of its kind in the country.

Head of the Prison Service Michael Spurr told Channel 4 News: “I am absolutely clear there are corrupt staff; I am absolutely clear we have to tackle that and not pretend it doesn’t exist. I’m clear that we must work through what intelligence we’ve got about the potential for corruption – and then identify those involved and take action.”

Watch an interview with the Head of the Prison Service Michael Spurr – his first on the topic of corruption – below.