Banning greeting cards won’t stop chilli from entering our prisons

When inspectors last visited HMP The Mount in 2018, the place was awash with drugs. The prevalence of the psychoactive substance ‘bird killer’ and the violence associated with it meant that almost half of all prisoners said they felt unsafe. This insidious drug, collectively known as “spice”, was smuggled past officers in the form of letters and cards invisibly imbued with the substance which prisoners then smoked or licked. Wings and landings filled with zombified inmates in a toxic haze of smoke that felled officers were not uncommon. The addictive qualities of this scum led to a spiral of debt, predation and anarchy that threw rehabilitation out the window of the cell.

So the news that this large medium-security prison in Hertfordshire is banning all inmate cards and photographs, except those generated remotely through commercial outlets such as Moonpig and Freeprints, is a welcome effort to eliminate the terrible scourge of synthetic drugs that disfigures prisons with brutality and desperation. Until a certain point.

It’s not impossible to make prisons drug-free, it’s just very expensive to do it

Family contact helps inmates stay in touch with loved ones and connected to the outside world. Research conducted by the Department of Justice shows that the chances of recidivism are significantly reduced when inmates who had family visits were compared to those who did not. But not all families can afford the cost and commitment of visiting prisoners who are often held away from home. Thus, maps and photographs take on even greater importance, especially those made by hand by children. We should loosen these emotional ties only with extreme care and, if possible, temporarily.

Now, instead of the real thing, prisoners will be given photocopies of any handwritten cards sent to them. The prison service could also be a huge source of income for Moonpig et al. Hopefully, without much expectation, someone within HQ has negotiated a mass discount to ensure that this regrettable but necessary move is affordable for beleaguered families and that other means of electronic communication such as video conferencing are boosted to compensate.

Nevertheless, the latest report from independent monitors at HMP The Mount suggests that despite the still-pervasive Covid lockdown across it and many other prisons, medicines, including spices, remain available. While the way drugs enter prisons will include the methods that HMP The Mount is trying to eradicate, fewer visitors to prisons means drugs must enter our prisons by other means; parcels thrown over the perimeter and brought in by a small minority of corrupt personnel must also be part of the problem. The rampant drug economy in our prisons is so large and so lucrative that the threat will constantly evolve in the face of countermeasures.

It is not impossible to make prisons drug-free, but it is very expensive. Removing some from the grip of organized crime will likely require blood on the carpet in terms of repression and disorder. But there are finally signs that with the deployment of airport-style scanners and other technologies in most closed prisons, we will begin to get the supply lines under control. The relentless demand for drugs from those who get caught is unlikely to go away unless, at the same time, prisons become useful places for people to change their offending behavior, get the treatment they need and to give them the skills to succeed in life. to the output. For prisons, rehabilitation should be a priority.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor recently spoke of a post-covid ‘slumber’ with empty classrooms and workshops while prisoners who should be there are locked up for up to 23 hours a day. We have now hastily recruited prison guards whose experience of dealing with inmates mainly comes through the trapdoor of their cell door. We have prisons so devoid of staff who have left because of high violence, lack of support and low pay that even if there is the will to unfreeze this collective isolation, there is no way to do so. do it safely. This should concern all of us.

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Prisons flooded with violence, indolence and desperation will not stop future victims and cannot help inmates realize their own potential. We are paying for it and the victims will suffer the consequences in due course. The Mount is taking laudable action against one aspect of this filthy triumvirate, but we need an appropriate government response to get prisons reopened and safe for all.

Mika R. Pyle