UK: psychoactive drugs linked to 95% of jail's ambulance callouts

Crews called to HMP Wealstun 200 times in six months over spice-like drug incidents

Paramedics were called 200 times in six months to a prison in West Yorkshire to deal with medical incidents linked to drugs like spice, an inspection has revealed.

Of 211 ambulance callouts to HMP Wealstun in the six months prior to the October 2019 inspection, about 95% were related to psychoactive substances, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) found.

Nearly 25% of inmates told inspectors they had developed a drug habit since entering the jail, which is a training and resettlement prison designed to prepare prisoners for life after their release.

Wealstun prison was one of 10 on which the former prisons minister Rory Stewart staked his future before he was moved to another government department and later stood down as an MP.

The chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, said the widespread availability of drugs at Wealstun – 69% of inmates said it was easy to obtain them – was undermining good work elsewhere in the prison.

“The ready availability of illicit drugs undermined much of what the prison was trying to achieve,” Clarke said. “Sixty-nine per cent of prisoners told us it was easy to obtain drugs, and nearly a quarter of all prisoners said they had acquired a drug habit since entering the jail – a remarkable figure given the short time that many prisoners stayed there.”

Wealstun, which holds 820 men, including many short-stay prisoners and a third under the age of 30, was part of the “10 Prisons Project” set up in August 2018 by Stewart, who is running for London mayor as an independent candidate.

The prison was supplied with a body scanner and other technology to help keep drugs out but Clarke said the positive impact of technology and physical security improvements was being compromised by the lack of an effective drugs strategy.

“Until such time as there is a comprehensive action plan in place, that not only requires an effective response to intelligence but is also proactive in seeking out incoming supply routes, the harms caused by the ready availability of drugs will not be reduced,” Clarke said.

Levels of self-harm have increased six-fold since the last inspection, which Clarke said could be linked to the “excessive” amount of time prisoners spent locked in their cells.

Clarke said relationships between staff and prisoners were good, healthcare was good, and living conditions had improved since the last inspection in 2015. He added: “I have little doubt that if the key areas of illicit drug supply and failure to assess risks were to be addressed, Wealstun could recover from the decline in grades since the last inspection, and indeed move on to better serve the needs of its prisoners.”

Phil Copple, the HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) director general for prisons, said: “The governor and her team are working hard to address the issue of drugs at HMP Wealstun. The new X-ray scanner is bolstering security, and the prison is working closely with the police to catch those responsible.

“Since piloting Pava [an incapacitant spray similar to pepper spray], we have improved procedures for its use and improved staff training both locally and as part of the national rollout. More staff have enabled a fuller regime, giving prisoners greater access to work and education programmes.”