Spike in drugs found at Wandsworth Prison after sniffer dog handler goes on holiday

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Britain’s largest prison is failing to stem the flow of drugs into cells after its sniffer dog had time off and amid a shortage of CCTV operators, its monitors said today.

The Independent Monitoring Board for Wandsworth Prison said illicit substances were fuelling violence as it issued a highly critical report on conditions. 

In one month, dog searches were conducted on only 10 out of 31 days.

It said: “It had been intended that Wandsworth should be a hub for the new regional dog team but no new staff were appointed and there was no cover made available when the one dog handler went on training or leave. 

As a result dog searches had decreased.”

The “security risk” was worsened by the lack of “operational CCTV” to monitor visitors. 

Drug failure: Wandsworth prison (Picture: Nigel Howard)

The board warned that Wandsworth had “once again” been “unable to provide a consistently safe, decent and humane environment for its 1,600 prisoners” over the past year.

It blamed the failure on “severe staff shortages” which were undermining the efforts of the prison’s “strong management team and hard-pressed officers” and affecting “almost every aspect of prison life”. 

The resulting problems included prisoners being locked in their cells for excessive periods. This was causing “boredom and frustration” and contributing to high levels of violence.

Staff shortages were also preventing education and training which was “vital to the process of rehabilitating offenders and preventing recidivism”.

On the drugs problem, the board said there were “almost daily drone deliveries” last summer, helped by the “large number of smashed cell windows”, but that airborne smuggling had “decreased sharply… after a police car chase of a suspected drone operator resulted in a fatality”. 

Other measures had also helped and there had been no known drone deliveries since last September. 

Other forms of smuggling continued. Several staff had been “excluded” after being subjected to X-ray and dog searches. But “the amount of contraband being brought in by visitors” remained “relatively high” because of the lack of staff to monitor CCTV or conduct sniffer dog checks. 

The board’s report also disclosed that about 40 per cent of Wandsworth’s inmates are foreign nationals, with 112 Poles forming the largest contingent. 

The Ministry of Justice said recruitment of dog handlers was “under way at a regional level” and that “posts at Wandsworth are expected to be filled in the near future”. 

It added: “Wandsworth has already taken action to address a number of concerns raised in the report, including a targeted, local recruitment campaign which has already begun to boost the number of prison officers in post. 

“The prison has also put in place new measures to tackle the supply and use of illegal contraband. This includes the recruitment of new dog handler posts to step up drug detection.”

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