Police officers in Doncaster are waging war against criminals supplying drugs, weapons and mobile phones to inmates in the town’s prisons.
According to South Yorkshire Police figures, 202 mobile phones were seized after being smuggled into or thrown over the perimeter walls and fences at Doncaster’s prisons last year.
Drugs with a prison value of over £100,000 and 43 weapons were also found during raids and joint police and prison operations.
With Doncaster host to four prisons - and between 3,500 and 4,000 inmates locked up at any one time - South Yorkshire Police admit the jails pose a ‘considerable challenge’ to the force.
The prisons are among the top three ‘demand generators’ in Doncaster with assaults on inmates and prison officers, sex attacks, drug use, the use of mobile phones and smuggling among the range of offences regularly investigated.
A specialist police team investigates all reported offences committed behind bars and local neighbourhood officers and officers from Doncaster’s tasking team work with the prisons on operations on the outside aimed at preventing drugs, weapons and mobile phones from being smuggled in by staff and visitors or thrown over perimeter fences.
Superintendent Dan Thorpe, responsible for policing Doncaster’s prisons, said: “Doncaster is quite unique, I don’t think there is anywhere else where there is such a concentration of prisons in one place.”
Lindholme was recently branded one of the country’s top 10 most challenging prisons for its drug use and violence and was allocated a share of a £10 million Government funding pot to tackle issues.
According to Ministry of Justice figures, assaults in Lindholme went up by 385 per cent between 2008 and 2017.
And earlier this year, a report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons revealed that members of organised crime groups serving time at Lindholme are still ‘plying their trade’ behind bars.
One fifth of inmates were identified as being part of an organised crime group.
Supt Thorpe said South Yorkshire Police is determined to support prison officers and prosecute inmates who offend behind bars.
He said the force is striving to reduce the number of packages thrown over perimeter fences to stop illegal items and substances from getting into the prison system, which he said are the root cause of many issues, including assaults, bullying and debt.
Illegal phones allow inmates to continue their criminality while locked up.
In one high profile case in Sheffield in 2008, a teenage boy was shot dead in an assassination ordered by a gang member using an illegal mobile phone while behind bars.
Tarek Chaiboub, aged 17, was killed when the S3 gang operating in Burngreave and Pitsmoor at that time imploded.
Nigel Junior Ramsey, who ran the younger members of the gang, ordered the killing while he was behind bars at HMP Wold, Brough, East Yorkshire.
He and four others who carried out his orders were jailed for a total of 110 years between them.
Supt Thorpe said: “There are some substantial challenges facing prisons, and it is right that we support them.
“A lot of crime which occurs within the prison is a result of items being thrown over perimeter walls and fences, giving prisoners access to mobile phones and drugs.
“Phones enable prisoners to orchestrate crime from inside.
“This isn’t easy when you consider that Lindholme’s perimeter fencing is three miles long but we are determined to make a difference.
“Reducing throw overs will reduce crime inside. We are working far more closely with our prison officer colleagues than we ever have before by conducting more joint proactive policing/prison operations and catching people trying to throw or take illegal items into the prison estate.”
Superintendent Thorpe said prosecuting inmates is key to protecting the public and deterring other prisoners from offending while behind bars.
“There are people inside prisons who are never going to change their ways and will continue to re-offend, so if they commit offences behind bars I want to keep them there to keep the public safe,” he said.
“Prosecuting also serves to send a strong message to others that committing crime behind bars will not be tolerated and that if a prisoner thinks they can get away with it, there will be consequences.”
Supt Thorpe said a new prison partnership board made up of the police, prison bosses agencies including the CPS, probation and health, is reaping rewards.
The board meets bi-monthly with the aim of improving the way the services work together better to reduce incidents and crime behind bars.
One change since the board was set up is an improvement in the speed of investigations into offences, with police access to prisoners better than before and inmates being produced at police stations for questioning.
Supt Thorpe said working together is helping to achieve more ‘rapid justice’, which will help restore calm in prisons after an incident and acts as a deterrent.
HMP Doncaster recently secured funding for a civilian investigator to be trained up by South Yorkshire Police to work at the jail and officers are also working with a number of prison officers in the town’s jails to advice them on how to secure forensic evidence when crimes are committed.
Supt Thorpe said: “By working together we will speed up the investigative process and reduce the number of cases which fail due to a lack of forensics - sending out a message to the prison population that we do take offences behind bars seriously and we will always seek to prosecute.”
Anyone with information about criminals and gangs supplying prison inmates should call South Yorkshire Police on 101 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555111.
Inmates prosecuted for offences behind bars:
- Owen Hill, 25, jailed for 40 months after pleading guilty to the false imprisonment of a member of prison staff and possession of an improvised weapon at HMP Moorland last August.
Hill took a member of staff hostage and demanded a move to another prison.
Hill, from Scarborough, was serving a two-and-a-half year sentence for burglary when he took the prison worker hostage.
- Richard French, 29 and formerly of Gateshead, was serving a nine-year sentence at HMP Lindholme in Doncaster for conspiracy to supply Class A drugs when he was caught with the illegal phone.
He received a six-month prison sentence to run alongside his existing term.
- Daniel Dutton, 27 and Andrew Blackburn both received additional two-year sentences for throwing excrement over prison officers at HMP Lindholme.
- Jamie Beardshaw, 22, had three years added to his sentence for throwing excrement and urine over a prison officer at HMP Moorlands.
He was serving a seven-year sentence for robbery when he committed the offence.
- Clive Martindale, 26, was jailed for an extra year for throwing boiling water in a fellow inmate’s face at HMP Lindholme in June last year.
Martindale was serving a five-and-a-half-year sentence for robbery and criminal damage when he scalded his victim.