Prisons ‘out of control’ as drug testing regime millions over budget and targets missed


The “out of control” drug crisis in prisons is laid bare by new figures showing targets for the mandatory testing of inmates have been missed while costs have ballooned by tens of millions.

Between June 2022 and June this year 41,308 random drug tests were carried out across the estate - 12,830 short of the government’s target of 54,138. Testing was down 30 per cent compared with 2019, official figures show.

At HMP Mount, where five prisoners died in August after taking spice laced with the deadly synthetic opioid Fentanyl, just 144 tests took place.  The prison houses 1,000 inmates.

Meanwhile 17 tests took place at HMP Manchester - formerly known as Strangeways -  in the whole year, meaning just one prisoner was tested every three weeks.

Labour said prisons have “spiralled out of control” under the government, with drug use and violence “rife” over the past 13 years.

The state of prisons across the country has come under renewed scrutiny following the alleged escape of suspected terrorist Daniel Khalife from HMP Wandsworth in London.

Experts and unions say prisons are often understaffed and lack experienced officers.

Nearly a third of officers at high-security prisons have fewer than three years of experience, fuelling concerns about safety and “grooming” of staff by the most dangerous criminals in the country.

Drug use is also a huge problem, with the number of substances and manufacturing equipment skyrocketing by 325 and 625 per cent respectively since 2010.

Internal government documents also show officials have downgraded their “confidence” in delivering a testing regime from green to amber.

Ministry of Justice documents said the procurement of drug testing may be difficult due to “highly specialised nature of the laboratory toxicology services being bought”.

These procurement issues have led to a delay of the project of over a year, and an increased cost to the taxpayer of nearly £60 million more than originally planned.

Mick Pimblett, assistant general secretary of the Professional Trades Union for Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers, said: “This is just another example of HMPPS (His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service) failing to meet their key performance in the cases,  this is all due to the recruitment and retention crisis within HMPPS.

“The failure to conduct random mandatory testing on prisoners just fuels violence on our members and between prisoners.

“HMPPS is failing in its duty to rehabilitate prisoners and keep the public safe upon their release.”

Shabana Mahmood, Labour’s shadow justice secretary and the MP for Birmingham Ladywood, said: “Under the Tories, prisons have spiralled out of control with rates of drug use and violence rife.

“With fewer inmates being drug tested, there’s an increasing risk that prisoners come out of jail with a higher potential to reoffend than when they went in. It’s time the Conservatives focused on keeping the public safe.

“Labour is the party of law and order. In government, we will get on and deliver the modern prison places we need to ensure that dangerous criminals are rehabilitated, and the public is protected.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We have a zero-tolerance approach to drugs in prison and any prisoner suspected of taking illicit substances can still be subjected to a mandatory drug test.

“We are rolling out new drug-free living units and hiring dedicated staff to help prisoners off drugs and into recovery, and now a third of prisoners leave treatment free of addiction – the highest proportion ever recorded.

“Our £100m investment in tough security measures – including X-ray body scanners – is stopping the smuggling of illicit drugs behind bars”