Doncaster prisoners with links to gangs could be moved to higher security jails

HMP Lindholme
HMP Lindholme

Prisoners with gang links could be transferred into higher-security jails under plans to reduce the influence of criminal kingpins behind bars.

Justice Secretary David Gauke is considering a major change to rules underpinning decisions on where inmates are held as part of a drive to stem the flow of drugs, mobile phones and other contraband into prisons.

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Prisoners are currently assigned security categories according to the length of their sentence and escape risk.

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Those at the highest levels are held in establishments or wings with more restrictive regimes.

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Under proposals being examined by the Government, a new factor - the risk of continuing criminality in prison - would be taken into account when determining security categories.

If adopted, the move would be a 'critical tool' in helping to cut off kingpins from directing illegal activity both inside and outside prison, officials said.

Authorities estimate there are approximately 6,500 offenders in prison associated with organised crime - roughly equivalent to one in every 13 inmates.

In his first major speech on prisons since his appointment in January, Mr Gauke will today warn that new technologies have 'empowered' smuggling gangs to be more 'sophisticated and brazen' in their methods.

He will describe how criminals have used drones to fly contraband to specific cell windows and even coated children's paintings in psychoactive substances.

Mr Gauke will say: "From the conventional to the cunning, by design or device, through fear or intimidation, these criminal gangs will stop at nothing to maintain their access to such a lucrative market.

"We are taking action to bolster our defences at the prison gate and going after the organised criminal gangs.

"I want them to know that as a result of the action we are taking, they have no place to hide.

"Through our covert and intelligence-led operations, we will track them down."

He will pledge to remove the influence of gangs from prisons so they can become 'places of hope not despair'.

Last month an inspection report on HMP Lindholme in Doncaster warned that inmates with gang connections were determined to carry on 'plying their trade' while behind bars.

The damning report exposed a chronic drug problem at the prison, with two thirds of inmates admitting it is easy to get a hit behind bars and one quarter having developed an addiction while serving their sentences.

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, questioned whether HMP Lindholme is a suitable place to hold high numbers of prisoners with organised crime connections who are determined 'ply their trade' while behind bars.

He said the length of the perimeter of the prison means it is 'difficult to defend' and combined with the links so many prisoners have to organised crime 'and their obvious resourcefulness in getting large quantities of drugs into the jail,' progress in tackling the issue will be slow.

His report said one fifth of the prisoners have organised crime connections.

"There is a question to be asked as to whether Lindholme is actually a suitable establishment in which to hold its current population given the apparent intractability of the problem," Mr Clarke said.

"Lindholme has faced some very serious challenges, and still does. There is always a high risk from drugs and the violence they generate. The leadership at HMP Lindholme have a number of credible plans, and they will need them to be successful if they are to defeat the organised criminals who are determined to continue to ply their trade while serving their sentences."