Labour to root out drugs in prisons while Tories move to ban prisoners receiving books

In a wide-ranging speech on prison reform on Thursday, Sadiq Khan MP, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, will unveil plans for a clampdown on drugs getting into prisons as part of a set of proposals designed to rehabilitate offenders. 

He will identify drugs and contraband getting into jails, and the undermining of attempts to reform criminals – as top priorities for an incoming Labour Government. He will also announce how Labour would  clamp down on corruption among prison staff to block off supply routes into jails. 

This contrasts with the current Government’s inaction on drugs in jails, with Ministers instead focused on the banning of books being sent to prisoners, exposing their "skewed priorities." 

Sadiq Khan MP, speaking ahead of Thursday’s speech, said

"While Labour makes sensible policy suggestions on how stop drugs getting into prisons, Chris Grayling is banning prisoners from getting books, underwear and birthday cards. This sums up the skewed priorities of a Justice Secretary who has no solutions to the problems in our prisons. If he wanted to truly rehabilitate prisoners David Cameron’s Government would be encouraging reading, not making it more difficult than it already is. This is why Labour wants to build on the success of the 'reading mentors' scheme, getting prisoners reading books and improving their skills ready for life on the outside. 

“This Government has no idea whatsoever how to deal with the crisis in our prisons on its watch. Half of all male prisoners have no qualifications and the number of those in jail who can’t read and write is a national disgrace. Two fifths of all prisoners have the average reading age of an 11 year old. This ridiculous policy shows just how low Chris Grayling has plumbed the depths in his approach to running our justice system." 


In his speech Sadiq Khan is expected to commit the next Labour Government to: 

  • A zero-tolerance policy on corruption by prison staff, those employed by companies contracted by the prisons service and prisoners themselves.
  • Creation of a whistle-blowing hotline, independent of the Ministry of Justice, for those staff wanting to report allegations of wrongdoing by colleagues.
  • Annual publication of the facts and figures on all allegations of misconduct – how many allegations, what happened to the investigation and what sanctions were used against those found guilty.
  • Those with convictions for serious offences (including convictions for corruption) should be disqualified from working in our prisons


In those prisons with the worst problems, Labour demands: 

  • More searching of staff as they begin and finish their shifts
  • Consideration of closed visits (e.g. screens separating inmates and visitors)

In addition, Labour is also committed to working with all those in our prisons service to raise the standards of the workforce. That’s why we will: 

    •   Work with prison staff to look at creating a chartered institute or equivalent for those working in prisons

  • Providing accreditation and specialist status for those with particular expertise in aspects of prisoner management and offender rehabilitation


Editors’ notes 

1. Data revealed in answers to parliamentary questions asked by Sadiq Khan has shown the scale of the problem – 17 prison staff were imprisoned in 2012 because of criminal activity in the workplace ( and 9 prison staff were dismissed in 2012 for inappropriate relationships with prisoners (

 2. Some recent high profile incidents include:

•       On 3 March 2014, a prison officer who had sex with an inmate and supplied drugs to prisoners at HMP Birmingham

3. In October 2013, a prison worker was jailed for four years for trying to smuggle cannabis into HMP Wormwood Scrubs

4. In January 2013, a prison officer was jailed for having an improper relationship with a prisoner and helping him with a mobile phone he used to run a drugs empire from behind bars

5. In response to parliamentary questions from Sadiq Khan, the Ministry of Justice refused to share information on how many reports of corruption there had been in 2012. They said “it would be inappropriate for operational reasons, including implications for the integrity of security systems and to ongoing investigations and operations in to staff misconduct, to provide the information requested”

6. The Blakey Report (2008) into drugs in prisons recommended that the budget of the Corruption Prevention Unit (CPU) be increased by £5million to tackle the problem

7. Hussain Djemil, former Head of Drug Treatment Policy at NOMS said that the majority of drugs in prisons (estimated to be worth about £100million a year) was smuggled in by prison officers

8. In 2011, documents obtained by Channel 4 and Policy Exchange through a FOI request revealed that the threat of staff corruption is “considerable”

9. Transparency International say that the scale of corruption in prisons is more than originally thought, as most estimates omit three key factors: (1) risk of non-prison staff being involved; (2) impact of organised crime within the prison population and (3) symbiosis between corruption and performance management. Additional staff in prisons (e.g. back office, ancillary etc) are thought as likely to be corrupted. Yet they receive only a single hour’s training in the form of a DVD from the US

10. 48% of prisoners are at, or below, GCSE level (grades D-G) in reading Source: Office for National Statistics (2003) Prison Statistics England and Wales 2001, London: ONS, and Annex: Definition of Skill Levels in Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (2011) 2011 Skills for Life Survey, London: BIS.

11. The report on Prisoners being banned from receiving books is online here:

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