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Figures reveal number of prisoners caught with contraband at HMP Grampian has doubled

HMP Grampian in Peterhead.
HMP Grampian in Peterhead.

Prisoners at HMP Grampian are being caught hiding contraband on their bodies almost every day, new figures show.

The latest statistics showing misbehaviour at the Peterhead prison in the past 12 months reveals a significant increase in illegal items being found smuggled into the institution – and a substantial rise in threats to personal safety there.

Information obtained via a Freedom of Information request by the Scottish Conservatives show staff found 269 illegal items attached to the bodies of HMP Grampian prisoners in 2019/20.

That figure has more than doubled since the prison opened in 2015/16, when 114 pieces of concealed contraband were discovered.

It is understood that items such as sim cards accounted for much of the confiscated material.

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Liam Kerr branded the figures “hugely concerning” and called for tougher penalties to clamp down on illegal items being brought into the north-east jail.

Mr Kerr, the Scottish Conservative candidate for Aberdeen South and North Kincardine, said: “Prison officers are doing their best to stop contraband in very difficult circumstances and these figures highlight the great work they are doing to control this problem.

“There needs to be better rehabilitation programmes to stop the cycle of drug use among prisoners but at the same time this can’t be allowed to go on without suitable punishment.”

Better detection techniques

Head of corporate affairs at Scottish Prison Service, Tom Fox, argued that the increase in items being found was actually “a good thing”.

“Contraband is unauthorised or prohibited articles and can include a variety of different things in the prison service,” he said.

“It can include sim cards or unauthorised chargers for mobile phones, or cigarettes and tobacco. Improvised weapons are also classed as contraband.

“The figures reported start from 2015/16 when the prison opened.

“Since then we are getting better and better at finding items. A lot of time and investment has gone into developing new technologies as a means for tracking contraband, substances and trafficked articles on their way into prison

“The better we get at looking for it, the more we report as being found.”

Mr Fox added that further specialist technologies were being used to clamp down on “new psychoactive substances”, formerly known as ‘legal highs’ which he said are an “extremely dangerous” issue.

Incidents of prisoners “recklessly” endangering the health and safety of others have also tripled from 27 in 2015/16 to 82 in 2019/20.

The figure for all assaults had also increased from 86 in 2015/2016, to 120 in the past 12 months. However that was a drop from 143 reported in the year 2018/2019.

“Any prisoner who put someone else in danger needs to be dealt with severely so they know the consequences of such action just simply won’t be worth it,” Mr Kerr added.

“Prison should be a place where lessons are learned and an opportunity for criminals to change themselves.”

Inspectorate report

The latest figures on behaviour within the super jail come just weeks after the prison’s latest inspection report.

That found that healthcare staff were “tired, overstretched and stressed” due to problems with recruitment and absences.

The jail was, however, praised for “performing strongly” in its response to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland (HMIPS) found, then, that 116 male prisoners and 22 female had been placed in isolation between March and October last year in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a further “very encouraging” development, HMIPS noted the prison had a “calmer, controlled atmosphere” compared to their last full inspection, which they said was a result of the progress made in “securing a solid SPS staffing base”.