A report into HM Prison Portland, a male adult and young offenders institution on the Isle of Portland, Dorset, found that gangs were “manipulating” recently released prisoners.
Since supervision on release terms were introduced in February 2015, the number of offenders recalled to prison after serving sentences of 12 months or less has risen
Inmates are therefore committing minor breaches of the terms of their release — such as missing a meeting with a probation officer — in order to be sent back to prison to serve short sentences.
“We have heard that as it is ‘easy’ to get returned to prison for breaking licence conditions, men do so in order to smuggle drugs and other items into prison to sell,” the report by the jail’s Independent Monitoring Board said.
Anna Knight, vice-chairwoman of Portland’s independent monitoring board, told The Times: “The parameters by which the conditions can be broken are quite slight. It can be as low as being late for a probation appointment.
“There is a problem with more and more people who are actually involved in criminal gangs making sure they come back on recall because it is a way of them smuggling in drugs and mobile phones.”
Those who commit minor breaches can be sent back to prison for as little as 14 to 28 days.
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “We have been contacted by prison staff concerned that prisoners are being recalled in order to bring drugs into custody.
“Some of those . . . are being coerced by gangs on the outside. This is an example of how expanding the reach of the criminal justice system simply creates problems and does nothing to solve them.
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“At a time when prisons are already filled to bursting, it made no sense to ratchet up rules on recall and send thousands of prisoners back behind bars after release.”
A prison service spokesman said: “We have taken unprecedented action to tackle the supply and use of drugs, including an innovative drug testing programme, the training of over 300 specialist drug dogs and upgrades to CCTV cameras . . . A new governor has been appointed at Portland and additional officers are being recruited to help step up efforts to tackle drugs.”
In September, drug expert detective constable Jamie Thompson of Cheshire Police warned that offenders were deliberately getting sent back to prison in order to sell drugs such as spice.
He told the National Custody Seminar organised by the Police Federation: “Be on the lookout for offenders who are out on licence and seemingly desperate to get locked up and commit minor crimes to take the drugs into prison.”
“One guy,” he added, “Broke the window of a police station. He was going to get paid £1,000.”