Public asked to be Prison Watchers in stop drug smuggling into jails

HMP Edinburgh piloted the scheme. Picture: PA
HMP Edinburgh piloted the scheme. Picture: PA
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A SCHEME aimed at preventing drugs and other contraband being smuggled into prisons, by encouraging members of the public to act as watchdogs, is to be rolled-out nationwide.

A spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) said a pilot at HMP Edinburgh achieved impressive results in its first year.

This has led to the Prison Watch initiative being extended to prisons in Aberdeen and Peterhead in recent weeks.

Now the SPS plans to roll it out nationwide, making ordinary members of the public one of the first lines of defence in tackling crime in prisons.

Scotland’s biggest and most notorious jail, Barlinnie, in Glasgow, is expected to be one of the first in line.

Greenock and Inverness jails are also being considered.

A spokesman for the SPS said: “It is something that we would like to see elsewhere. It’s proved to be a success in Edinburgh and has been well received in Aberdeen.”

The roll-out is expected to be gradual. The SPS will raise awareness about how the scheme works before introducing it to different areas.

“The obvious places are Barlinnie, Greenock and Inverness,” the spokesman said.

“The key element is if someone has seen someone acting suspiciously, they have a single contact number which has contact with the prison or the police control room. For people who see something and are not sure what to do, it gives them a degree of certainty.”

The first six months of the Edinburgh trial saw a 76 per cent drop in the number of illegal items entering the prison, from 120 to 28, compared to the same period in the previous year.

The number of phones smuggled in halved, while cannabis finds dropped to a third of their previous level.

However, the starkest improvement was in levels of smuggled heroin. From February to August 2010, 195.5 grams of the Class A drug were found. In the same months of 2011 – the most recent statistics available – that figure dropped to just 4 grams.

Tackling inmates’ drug use, and heroin in particular, is seen as key to stopping them reoffending after release.

It is hoped that if they are no longer addicted they will be less likely to reoffend, as there will be no habit to fund.

Stopping the supply of mobile phones limits inmates’ ability to run criminal empires from behind bars.

Neighbourhood Watch Scotland is not surprised residents in Saughton, Edinburgh, took to the initiative with gusto.

Lisa Toon, national development officer, said: “If you ask anyone, they want to live in a safe place.

“You realise that you can make a difference. It’s not about waiting for things to be done for you, it’s about making things happen.”

The scheme’s roll-out has been welcomed by victims and the Scottish Government

David Sinclair, of Victim Support Scotland, said: “Any initiative which prevents a crime occurring, including those involving people attempting to get things into prison through illegitimate means, has to be in the best interests of the public and public safety.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “People go to extreme lengths to smuggle contraband into prisons.

The problems of prisoners and the problems they can cause do not stop at the prison wall.”