Unique police team combating crime behind bars
14 September 2012
COMBATING crime behind bars is the focus of a unique police-prison partnership working inside HMP Birmingham.
In June this year a permanent police team – consisting of two detectives and two intelligence specialists – moved into the Category B jail tasked with reducing “throw-over” and contraband smuggling offences.
It’s the only such prison-based police unit in the country – and is proving hugely successful.
In 2011 there were 236 incidents of drugs, mobile phones or other contraband – often stuffed inside tennis balls or footballs – being thrown over the perimeter walls of the Winson Green facility.
But so far this year there has been less than 100 such offences, with only two in the whole of August, plus several notable arrests and convictions…leading to the throwers joining their intended recipients behind bars!
Detective Constable Jim Farrell, who previously juggled a part-time prison role around other CID work, said: “We’re surrounded by criminals…but criminality is no more acceptable here than it is out on the streets in our communities.
“There are rules here and any serious breaches will be investigated. Offenders can expect to be punished – and that may well mean having their stay at her majesty’s pleasure extended by several months or even years.
“Drugs are illegal in prison and anyone found in possession of a banned substance will be prosecuted. Equally, anyone who tries to ‘convey’ drugs into the jail – either by hurling it over the perimeter or smuggling it in person – will soon find themselves on the other side of the fence. They could face a 10-year sentence.”
Last October, DC Farrell and prison officers chased down a man acting suspiciously in parkland near the prison who was later found hiding under a car…a police sniffer dog uncovered parcels nearby containing drugs and phones.
The 30-year-old admitted attempting to convey items into jail and is himself on prison remand awaiting sentence, whilst Jim and prison staff won police commendations for their action. It was the first time a prison officer had received such an accolade from the force.
In February, a 43-year-old man was convicted of possessing Class A drugs with intent to supply after being found with 100 tablets during a cell search…with a judge adding another four years to his sentence.
And a son caught trying to smuggle two wraps of heroin through prison security to his father was jailed for three years. He argued the sentence was too strong…but the Court of Appeal ruled it fair and dismissed his complaints.
“It’s a risky business,” added Jim, “and with prison operators G4S having erected extensive netting over exercise yards it means most throw-over attempts will not even hit the ground yet alone reach their intended target.
“The Crime & Security Act – introduced in March this year – also made it a criminal offence for any prisoner to possess a mobile phone in prison.
“Inmates may try to get hold of mobile phones to contact criminal associates on the outside or simply to stay in touch with people on their terms whenever they want. However, they sacrificed that level of freedom by committing crime – and now anyone found with a phone will be prosecuted.
“We’ve had five recent convictions with each prisoner getting between four and six months added to their stay. Word is getting round that we will take action and they can’t simply ignore this new legislation.”
Prison Director Steve Williams described having a permanent police presence on site as “hugely beneficial”.
He added: “Not only does it give us quicker access to police resources – and we’ve seen the advantage of that with some great arrests – but the continuity enables Jim and his colleagues to gain a specialist working knowledge of the prison and become a familiar, trusted face.
“Levels of offending are reducing and, as the partnership tackles drug supply, the number of positive drug tests amongst inmates is also falling.
“The police team attend strategy meetings and can influence decisions, plus there is also a money saving as prisoners can be interviewed on site without the need to transport them to external police stations.
“Operations will continue to be carried out with West Midlands Police and prison staff, both inside and outside the prison, to catch and convict people responsible for the supply of drugs and mobile phones to inmates.”
HMP Birmingham is a Victorian prison built in 1849; it holds up to 1,450 adult remand and sentenced male prisoners.
PHOTO CAPTION: DC Jim Farrell, right, alongside HMP Birmingham Prison Director Steve Williams