“EPIDEMIC” levels of legal highs are putting Wigan prisoners and staff at risk, it was claimed this week.
A whistleblower at Hindley Young Offenders Institution contacted the Wigan Observer to warn that increasing numbers of inmates are becoming difficult to manage safely because of the use of the substances, some innocuously and misleadingly described on internet sales sites as plant food.
I would estimate between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of the drug seizures in prisons are the many varieties of legal highsGlyn Travis of the POA
And a spokesman for the Prison Officers Association (POA) union said today that it had been warning the Government about the proliferation of these substances for months. He accused ministers of refusing to take action to stop this new menace from wreaking havoc.
Hindley - which is in the process of becoming a fully fledged prison - currently has 140 inmates aged 15 to 18 years old on its wings but capacity for almost 250.
A member of prison staff who asked not to be identified warned that there is an increase in the availability and use of legal highs at the Bickershaw-based prison which is now having serious consequences. He said prisoners generally put them into roll-up cigarettes and then smoke them “where and when they can” around prison.
This, he said, had resulted in prisoners attending daytime activities in an “openly under-the-influence” state.
He said: “These affected prisoners arrive in training/vocation areas in a stupor under the influence of these drugs and behaving in an unacceptable manner.
“In some cases prisoners are attending some workshops contravening the Health and Safety at Work Act because in a number of cases these prisoners influenced by legal highs are supposed to handle dangerous equipment.
“So who will accept responsibility if there is a serious accident while a prisoner is found to be under the influence? When prisoners are sent back to their wings, when situations become uncontrollable or unmanageable due to the drug-taking, some management frown upon this and expect staff, especially education members, just to tolerate the unacceptable behaviour.
“In some cases verbal abuse and vandalism of equipment result from taking these so-called legal highs.”
The POA said that its officers had expressed concern over the levels of legal highs being brought into Hindley and the country’s other jails.
It warned that inmates are putting prison officers in danger as a result.
And they were worried that it was only a matter of time before a prison officer or a prisoner is killed because of the effect of the substances on inmates’ behaviour.
Glyn Travis of the POA said: “We are experiencing an epidemic of legal high use inside.
“I would estimate between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of the drug seizures in prisons are the many varieties of legal highs.
“Some have the same effects as class A drugs like cocaine.
“I fear a serious assault or the death of a staff member or prisoner.”
It is claimed that legal highs are being thrown over the walls and into prisons by dealers.
Prison officers have been told to be on the lookout for “spice” - a kind of synthetic cannabis, plus an hallucinogenic similar to LSD, known colloquially as BOM,
A spokesperson for the Prison Service said: “We take a zero tolerance approach to drugs in prison, including so-called ‘legal highs,’ and use a range of robust security measures to find them, including searches and specially trained dogs.
“Offenders need to be absolutely clear - those caught with drugs will be severely dealt with and could see time added to their sentence.”
Attempts have been made to outlaw legal highs - which contain chemicals that imitate illicit drugs such as cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy - but those creating them simply modify the formulae slightly so they fall outside the definition of the newly unlawful substance.
Moves are now afoot to create a new catch-all law that prevents such evasion.