Prison union warns psychoactive drugs have reached a ‘very dangerous level’ as Scottish staff battle chaos behind bars

A prison union boss yesterday demanded urgent action to end the chaos in prisons caused by the deadly zombie spice.

He said psychoactive drugs were causing chaos for staff in Scottish prisons after reaching a “very dangerous level”.

The Prison Officers Association (POA) has called for urgent action to tackle a flood of deadly substances like ‘zombie spice’ in the field.

It comes after six overdoses were reported in one weekend at Scotland’s maximum security prison, HMP Shotts.



A series of overdoses and deaths have been reported at HMP Shotts in Lanarkshire

John Cairney, chairman of the union’s Scottish national committee, told members in an update that staff were witnessing “incredible disruption” and working in increasingly unsafe conditions.

His warning came as Justice Secretary Keith Brown came under fire for nine drug-related deaths recorded at Shotts in 2021.

Cairney said: ‘This is causing incredible disruption in prisons and is at a very dangerous level.

“The stress and anxiety this is causing to frontline corrections officers, our members, is simply unacceptable.

“We will not back down and allow our members to be subjected to a dangerous environment, so something has to change, and fast.

“The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) are aware of our position and in the discussions we have had it is clear that they also share this concern for their staff. In fact, they have already invested in new technology, although the problem is still real and getting worse.

“New ways to eradicate this situation are already being discussed and will be shared when possible.”

Drug seizures in prisons more than doubled last year despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Staff intercepted 5,480 packages and many identified synthetic psychoactive drugs and etizolam, aka “street valium”, as the growing problem.

Substances enter prisons through mail or drug-soaked clothing.

And while prison leaders are working with partners, including scientists from the University of Dundee, on ways to detect and intercept drugs, they appear to be fighting a losing battle.

Sources at Shotts prison told the Record of concerns that six overdose victims took drugs from the same rogue batch of a spice-based substance over the weekend.

All came from the same level and were treated in intensive care.

It is understood that staff at the estate have also reported falling ill due to secondary exposure to chemicals.

Scottish Conservatives yesterday called for an end to the Scottish Government’s ‘soft approach’ to the crisis.



Keith Brown MSP arrives at Bute House as the new cabinet is unveiled on May 19, 2021.
Justice Secretary Keith Brown has been urged to bring the crisis under control

Shadow Community Safety Minister Russell Findlay MSP said: ‘Experienced frontline officers warning of a drugs crisis in our prisons are being ignored by the SNP government.

“Officers say the drugs have never been so prevalent, which is confirmed by the large number of overdoses – some fatal.

“Not only does this kill prisoners, but it puts staff at increased risk.

“Drug-flooded prisons don’t help inmates who desperately want to stay sober and end the costly cycle of delinquency.

“Keith Brown’s actions do not match his words – he must end the current soft approach and stop the drug-soaked mail from entering our prisons.”

Scottish Labor Justice spokeswoman Pauline McNeill called on the SNP to listen to Guardians and invest in solving the problem.

She said: “Much more needs to be done to recognize and address this growing crisis.

“I have spoken with prison officers who have contacted me to express their deep concern about the impact of these substances on Scottish prisons.

“These dangerous drugs put lives at stake and wreak havoc in prisons.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur MSP added: “Prison staff are already under immense pressure from overcrowded prisons. A drug epidemic in prisons will only aggravate an already toxic mix.

“This is an incredibly difficult working environment and staff cannot be expected to take on more without the resources and support they need.

“Drastic thought and resources are needed to end these preventable deaths.”

The SPS has declared the fight against psychoactive substances a priority.

A spokesperson said: “These substances are extremely dangerous for anyone who uses them and sometimes for people who come into contact with them.

“The challenge is that there is a very wide range of different substances that are difficult to detect but we have worked very hard with partners to develop new ways to identify them using intelligence to target and ban their introduction into our establishments. . But it remains a real challenge that no one is satisfied with and we recognize that in the future this challenge will stay with us for some time.

“We take the safety and well-being of everyone who lives and works in our prisons very seriously and it is a threat to that safety and well-being that we strive to combat.”

Meanwhile, the POA also said it would hold upcoming talks with the SPS to discuss the continued use of thousands of cellphones handed over to prisons during the pandemic, after hundreds were allegedly compromised by illegal SIM cards. .

John Cairney told members: ‘While the sentiment behind issuing phones to prisoners was the right thing to do to prevent the spread of the covid virus, keep staff and their families safe by minimizing the spread, abuse and the tampering with them that followed is a real concern and for us outweighs the reason for issuing them.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: ‘We recognize that prison officers work in a difficult and intensive environment due to an increasingly complex prison population.

“The use of illegal drugs in prisons cannot be tolerated and the Prison Service has a full range of robust security measures in place to prevent contraband from entering our prisons.

“The Scottish Prison Service continues to seek innovative technological solutions to detect, deter and reduce the availability of contraband entering our prisons to ensure the safety of staff and those in their care.”

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Alvin J. Chase