Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Toddlers used to take drugs into prison


TODDLERS are being used to smuggle illegal drugs to inmates at Saughton Prison, bosses at the high-security jail claimed today.

Mothers have been caught using their own children as drug mules to get heroin, cannabis and other illegal substances to addicts locked up inside.

Video footage, which has been seen by the Evening News, shows a series of deals made in prison waiting rooms involving children in the last few months.

One typical clip shows a father wearing the navy blue clothing of Her Majesty's Prisons pretending to embrace his son, who is just one or two years old, before dipping into the boy's pocket to retrieve a wrap of drugs.

Once they have the drugs, prisoners often swallow them as quickly as possible, without attracting the attention of a guard, so they can be flushed out and used later.

Prison chiefs today said the use of young children and babies to sneak drugs past tight security was a growing problem.

To protect the identity of some of the people involved, the CCTV images cannot be published.

But politicians today called on visiting times to be subject to a much tighter security regime.

The news comes as figures released to the Evening News under freedom of information legislation reveal the extent of drug smuggling and use in Saughton.

Last year alone, there were five drug seizures a week inside the jail, an increase on previous years. Prison governor David Croft said: "The amount of drugs found sounds like a lot but we're actually talking about five a week from 800 prisoners and the most minute quantities of drugs.

"The reason the amounts of drugs are so small is so they are easier to smuggle or post."

Prisoners and visitors are constantly coming up with ways of smuggling small amounts without being noticed, such as in cigarette butts, he said. Mr Croft added: "You could get enough heroin in the seal of an envelope, or in a book or magazine with pages cut out. Desperate people will do anything [to get drugs] and dealers will do everything."

In the past year, prison chiefs logged a total of 281 incidents where prisoners were found to be carrying drugs. There were 271 finds in 2003 and 261 in 2004.

The news prompted shadow justice minister Kenny MacAskill to call for tighter controls over prison visits. But union officials today defended prison officers, claiming it was often difficult for them to intervene at visiting times.

One of the largest finds between October and December last year, saw 48g of cannabis with a street value of around £120 seized in a bin area along with 39 morphine sulphate tablets (MST), and 68 temazepam tablets worth £100.

Prison chiefs are currently investigating allegations made in November last year that a guard smuggled up to £1.5 million worth of drugs hidden in microwave meals to prisoners.

SNP Lothians MSP Mr MacAskill, said: "It is a perennial problem in all prisons but we need to make it clear that it is just not acceptable. Family visits are a vital part of prisoner rehabilitation and you don't want to deny anyone contact with their children. But we do need to look at ways of improving security at Saughton because this is an abuse of the children being used as pawns."

One CCTV clip shows a woman removing drugs from her bra, before slipping it to her partner. Another woman puts a wrap in her mouth which is then exchanged through a kiss. Another prisoner pretends to bend down to talk to his child, but is actually angling his head to block the view of the CCTV camera as his partner puts drugs in his lap. If drugs exchanges are spotted and the prisoner apprehended before he can swallow them, the police are called and the visitor is charged. The prisoner is also punished by being put on closed visits - preventing physical contact with loved ones.

Derek Turner, assistant secretary of the Prison Officers Association Scotland, said: "The difficulty for us is that various legislation means that we need to wait for the police to come and search or charge prisoners."

by Gareth Rose and Andrew Picken


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