Warning over legal highs

Legal highs a problem in prisons
Legal highs a problem in prisons

THE use of legal highs has been linked to 19 prisoner deaths, a report has found, months after concerns were raised about a Wigan prison.

A whistleblower at Hindley Young Offenders Institution earlier this year warned that increasing use of the substances was becoming difficult to manage.

Similar concerns have been raised in a national report by the Prisons and Probations Ombudsman.

In the report, watchdog officer Nigel Newcomen said legal highs were hard to detect and extra training and education is needed for both inmates and staff.

The ombudsman examined 19 deaths in prisons between 2012 and 2014 where the inmate was suspected, or known, to have been taking new psychoactive substances (NPS).

In May, a member of staff at Hindley, who asked not to be identified, warned that rising numbers of prisoners were using the substances in roll-up cigarettes.

He said: “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?”

Charities have warned the substances are becoming more popular due to their widespread availability and because they are easy to buy.

Mr Newcomen said: “As these substances are not allowed in prison, and also because they are difficult to test for, it is possible that there are additional cases of prisoners who had used such drugs before their death.

Adding: “Trading of these substances in prison can also lead to debt, violence and intimidation... as well as adding to the security and control problems facing staff.”

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.”