New bag scanners at prisons detect heroin in washing-up liquid, cannabis in curry

Security at prisons will be improved with new scanning technology  (PA Wire)
Security at prisons will be improved with new scanning technology (PA Wire)

High-tech x-ray machines are being installed across 44 prisons in a bid to “thwart smuggling by visitors” in the way of drugs, phones and other contraband.

Eighty-three of the improved machines will be installed at the “most challenging” prison gates by the end of March, to check baggage items of thousands of staff and visitors who travel in and out of prisons each day.

Eight will be installed in London prisons, including HMP Wormwood Scrubs.

It will be the first time most prisons will benefit from the machines developed by VMI Security, the Ministry of Justice said on Tuesday, apart from some high-security prisons where they are already installed.

The x-ray machines are part of the Government’s wider measures to get “cut crime and keep the public safer”.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said: “These x-ray bag scanners are a powerful addition to the body scanners, drug-trace machines, metal detection archways and extra drug dogs we have added in recent years to keep drugs, mobile phones and other contraband out of our prisons.”

“This is getting more prisoners off drugs, and helping to keep our streets safer.”

The already installed x-ray machines have stopped nearly £40,000 worth of cannabis and tobacco concealed in curry and beef stew tins from entering prison, as well as a bottle of washing-up liquid that tested positive for heroin, the Ministry said.

Cannabis and tobacco found by the x-ray scanners (Ministry of Justice)
Cannabis and tobacco found by the x-ray scanners (Ministry of Justice)

The machines also detected 99 sheets of ‘spice’ paper, worth almost £60,000 inside prisons, in a cardboard box with a false bottom. Spice is a nickname for a substance containing one or more synthetic cannabinoids.

The improved security comes after the Ministry of Justice said it installed 75 x-ray body scanners across 74 male prisons, which have “disrupted around 20,000 attempts to smuggle harmful items” into prisons in two years.

On one occassion, one haul of 81 rocks of crack cocaine was intercepted.

A security scan by an x-ray machine (Ministry of Justice)
A security scan by an x-ray machine (Ministry of Justice)

Last year, dozens of prisons were also kitted out with new drug-trace machines that can detect “microscopic smears” of new psychoactive substances on mail and items of clothing.

The £100 million investment into security across the prison estate forms part of the Prisons Strategy White Paper, published in December 2021.

At the time of the strategy launch, then Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “We can’t be recycling young men endlessly in and out of the criminal justice system.”

He said jails “cannot be a dead end” for young people as he set out his intention for inmates to leave jail with “more qualifications and more self-esteem about their chances in the future”.

The plan commits to making prisons safer and modern, including a zero-tolerance approach to the smuggling of dangerous contraband.