Parc Prison 'reality' where inmates carry 'shanks' and drugs delivered by drones, MPs told

General view of HMP Parc from the outside
HMP Parc -Credit:Media Wales

The reality of life inside Parc Prison has been laid bare in Parliament with MPs saying prisoners are carrying homemade knives to feel safe, drugs being taken in by staff or dropped by drone, and fears of more deaths. There have been nine deaths at the prison in the last three months, something an MP described as "extraordinary".

The UK Government has faced calls to strip private security giant G4S of its contract to run HMP Parc in Bridgend – the only privately-run jail in Wales. In an urgent debate about the situation at the prison, MPs shared stories they had been told about the prison while the justice minister said it was "generally a 'well run prison'."

Blaenau Gwent Labour MP Nick Smith quoted one of his constituents who is in the prison as saying: "He feels unsafe in Parc. He describes prisoners walking round with shanks, just to feel safe."

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Conservative MP Stephen Crabb, who chairs the Welsh affairs committee which is currently taking evidence about prisons in Wales, said: "The number of fatalities is, by no means, normal. It’s quite extraordinary situation. There’s been multiple allegations of staff themselves bringing in illegal substances into the prison and a current prisoner recently wrote to Welsh affairs committee and said. 'Drugs are everywhere in prison from cannabis to heroin and so-called spice, dribs and drabs may enter through visits and some by drone but let’s not confuse the issue, far more comes in by people employed in prison'."

Newport East MP Jessica Morden said the mother of a prisoner at Parc told her that every day she "expects a phone call telling me the my son going to be another statistic?"

Justice minister Edwards Argar described as "generally a 'well run prison'." He offered condolences to those who had lost family members. "There have been nine adult deaths at HMP Parc since March 2024. It's important to note these deaths are not all drug-related but four have, so far, been linked to substance misuse with another potentially so. Any death in prison is thoroughly investigated by the prisons and probation ombudsman and subject to a coroner's inquest. Until the results of these are available, I must be a little careful not to pre-empt the detail of their findings or seek to comment on individual identifiable cases.

"I am able to say that we believe the two recent deaths this month have not currently been linked to substance misuse. The deaths at HMP and YOI Parc deaths should be considered in the wider of synthetic opioids pose to His Majesty's Prison and Probation Service (HMPPPS), those in our custody and the country more widely."

He said HMPSS and G4S, the prison operator, are "working together" using the "latest technologies" to work out drug entry points and movement within the prison. The Commons was told there has been "extensive searches of prisoners and staff". He said any suspicious substances are tested on site, and drug amnesties are being run. Mr Argar said drug X ray scanners being used on entry.

He said around 400 staff at the category B prison, including duty managers and night staff are trained in using naloxone, a medication that can reverse an overdose from opioids when given in time.

Ogmore Labour MP Chris Elmore said: "Every death is a tragedy regardless of their circumstance." He said the minister referenced Spice in the prison and there was "an absolute wild west assumption about what’s happening in the prison, mainly through social media."

"One of the concerns is that the prison is a catalyst for Spice being transferred in and out of the prison," he said, and asked what sort of measures were in place to control drug use inside and outside the prison.

Mr Elmore said there were issues with staff/prisoner ratio numbers which have not been dealt with. "There does appear to be a disconnect between the reality on the ground in the prison and what the Ministry of Justice seem to be saying" asking for an update to bring "calm" to the prison estate. For the latest analysis of the biggest stories, sign up to the Wales Matters newsletter here

Mr Argar said: "There’s a challenge not just in the prison but the community.

"The prison has put in place a strategy to tackle drugs, restricting supply, promoting recovery and seeking to reduce demand. Part of that is the co-ordination between G4s, HMPPPS, Public Health Wales, the local health board but seeking to bring into that local police and local authority so there’s shared ownership in tackling this.

"In terms of staffing, I believe there are currently around a dozen vacancies in staffing at the moment.

Conservative MP and Welsh Affairs Committee Chair Stephen Crabb -Credit:PA
Conservative MP and Welsh Affairs Committee Chair Stephen Crabb -Credit:PA

While we have increased staff, I do recognise a number are new in post and need to be supported by experienced officers to enable them to perform to the best of their ability. In terms of Spice, nitazenes is something we’re looking at, which is a variation on that, it’s a very strong drug, we’re looking at very carefully."

Mr Crabb said the minister had last week told him that no staff are searched using X-ray body scanners and asked why. Mr Argar responded: "The reality is the overwhelming staff who work in HMPPS do so honestly and with good intent. It’s right we continue to seek out those who don’t. In that context we continue to work with police forces around the country where prisons are located, including in this case to, where there is evidence, to take action against prison staff.

"We have got body scanners in operation at this prison for visitors and others. Alongside the rapiscan system where substances can be tested, we have handheld detectors used in a cell to track down or locate drugs in a much more effective manner."

He said there has been "considerable progress" but said it was a shared responsibility between a number of agencies. He added: "What appears to be the case these deaths have occurred from a range of causes, so we need to be a little cautious."