Two people died on Wednesday in incidents believed to have been related to spice, adding to fears that problems relating to the synthetic drug are growing.
A prisoner died of a suspected overdose at HMP Forest Bank in Salford, believed to be the second such death at the prison this year. Meanwhile, police in Somerset said they were investigating whether the death of a 30-year-old man was linked to spice. The man was found unresponsive at an address in Taunton with six other people who exhibited similar symptoms but did not need to attend hospital.
The prison inmate, who has not been named, died on Wednesday at the Sodexo-run jail, sparking an investigation by the independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman. It is believed to be the 89th death in prison this year.
The death comes four months after another prisoner died at HMP Forest Bank, in Pendlebury, Salford, after allegedly overdosing on spice. Over the same weekend, another inmate was taken to hospital after taking the drug.
The news will heighten concerns that problems relating to spice are growing both inside and outside prison. Over one recent weekend in Manchester, police recorded 58 spice-linked incidents, while six times as many incidents have been recorded by police in Lancashire as were recorded two years ago.
Prisons have faced persistent issues with spice. A report last February on HMP Forest Bank by the chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, found that drugs were “easily available” and were sparking violence. Clarke’s report said that although there were “some good outcomes for prisoners”, violent incidents had increased sharply, and nearly half of them were linked to so-called new psychoactive substances (NPSs), formerly known as legal highs.
Clarke said that despite the jail’s proactive approach to improving safety, “we found prisoners who were effectively self-isolating, too frightened to come out of their cells”.
Prisoners at HMP Forest Bank have told the Guardian that ambulances called to the prison to treat overdoses are known as “Mambulances”, after another name for spice, Black Mamba. One inmate said: “Half the jail are on spice, and the other half spend their time keeping out of their way.”
Figures released by the MoJ on Thursday show that death rates in prisons are at their highest since current recording practices began in 1978. In the year ending March 2017, a total of 344 people died in prisons in England and Wales. Of that total, 113 prisoners are believed to have taken their own lives.
A report by the independent monitoring board at Forest Bank praised the prison’s excellent performance in many aspects, but raised concerns that drugs such as spice were leading to increased violence.
The report said that between January and October 2015, staff at the jail had seized 4.4kg (9.7lb) of synthetic drugs, along with significant finds of cannabis and heroin. IMB members believe that the jail’s location, at the edge of a country park, makes it easier for people to throw drugs and mobile phones into the prison.
Inquest, the charity that supports the families of those who die in custody, says that, including the latest Forest Bank death, 89 people have died in prisons this year. That figure includes prisoners who died in hospitals but were technically still in custody.
A spokesman for Sodexo confirmed the death at Forest Bank on Wednesday and said that such incidents were a tragedy and their thoughts were with the prisoner’s family. “As with all deaths in custody, there will be an investigation by the independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and therefore we cannot comment further,” the spokesman said.