Kirkham open prison continues to have a ‘serious drugs problem’, inspectors find

Photo: IAN ROBINSON. Kirkham Prison
Photo: IAN ROBINSON. Kirkham Prison

Drug abuse at Kirkham open prison is a “serious problem”, inspectors found.

Around half of 589 prisoners at the minimum-security lock-up were serving sentences for drug-related offences – and 38 per cent said it was too easy to get their hands on illegal substances while inside.

Ten inmates even said they had developed a drugs problem from behind bars.

Some 51 per cent of positive test results in the past year have been for cannabis, and 25 per cent for cocaine. Bucking a national trend, there were no positive results for new psychoactive substances such as Spice.

A report published yesterday said: “Drug misuse was a serious problem for the prison and had worsened since the previous inspection.

“The mandatory drug testing positive rate was high – on average 11.7 per cent over the six months before the inspection – and was higher than we usually see at open prisons.”

The problem dates back to as far as 2004, when Kirkham was the worst in the UK with 35 per cent of inmates testing positive for drugs, but inspectors said security and health services were working together to tackle the problem.

Testing was carried out “quickly” when drug use was suspected, and around a quarter of transfers back to closed prisons were because of illegal drug or alcohol use.

There were also 144 referrals to an independent adjudicator in six months, “usually for possession of drugs or mobile phones”.

The report said the prison was “safe and successful”, however, with little violence or bullying amongprisoners, including 117 classed as being of a “high risk” to others, while staff “rarely” had to use force.

But while Kirkham, which can hold more than 600 men, was trying to create a “motivational and incentivising” culture, many of the inmates said they felt victimised by rude and abrupt staff.

Their “very negative” perceptions of guards’ attitudes clashed with a staff survey, with 72 per cent of workers saying they felt relationships with prisoners were good.

Peter Clarke (inset), Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “There was sufficient evidence, in our view, to suggest the prisoners may have had a point, and that the approach of some, certainly too many, staff was unsupportive of the ethos to which the prison aspired.

“Addressing this shortcoming in the quality of staff-prisoner relationships was the key priority to emerge from this inspection.”

The report said the “immaculate” prison grounds had a “pacifying” effect on previously violent prisoners, who are never locked in their rooms and had access to “reasonably good education and training”.

The number of prisoners absconding fell from 13 in the first six months of last year to six in the six months before the inspection, with a new “abscond strategy” brought in last year.

There had been no suicides since the last inspection in 2013, and self-harming was rare.

Shower rooms were “affected by mould” and “were not hygienic”, and there were “persistent breakdowns in the hot water and heating systems”, though refurbishment work is ongoing.

However, prisoners were positive about their access to clean bedding and clothes, cleaning materials, laundry facilities, and showers.

And 61 per cent said the quality of the food they are given is good, though 47 per cent said portions were too small.