Former prisoners are “deliberately” ensuring they are sent back to prison because they can’t resist the huge profits on offer by selling legal highs, new research has revealed.
A gram of synthetic cannabinoids, like Spice and ‘Mamba’, can cost £3 outside of prison but can fetch 33 times that amount - £100 - when sold behind bars, a study published Thursday in the International Journal of Drug Policy, found.
“Prisoners reported being able to make £3,000 in four weeks by bringing in an ounce (28 grams) of synthetic cannabinoids whilst others reported being offered £1,000 to bring in larger amounts on recall,” the report reads.
The market is now, according to the report aptly named ‘Adding Spice to the Porridge’, so profitable that the traditional contraband market in heroin and cannabis has “almost been wiped out”. Another factor driving the market surge, researchers said, was that the substance did not show up in drug tests.
Lead researcher Dr Rob Ralphs, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “It is no exaggeration to say that the synthetic cannabinoid market has exploded and unleashed a series of devastating impacts on prisons, prisoners and prison staff.
“Traditional drugs have almost been wiped out and replaced with these extremely powerful synthetic cannabinoids because prisoners are attracted by high profit margins and their lack of detection in drug tests.”
The report claimed to have “uncovered strong evidence” that the licence recall system of offender management is “routinely and systematically abused to bring synthetic cannabinoids into prison”. The system imposes conditions on a prisoner’s release, which if breached, can lead to further jail time.
The report quoted anecdotal evidence from a prison recover worker who said:
“I’d definitely say people [who] are coming in on [license] recalls to prison and short sentences [are bringing in Spice and Mamba] just to make some money and go back out. The lads [prisoners] will tell you themselves, ‘I’m going to come back in. I’m going to go out, get some Spice and Mamba and then I’m going to come back in and I’m going sell it and make thousands of pounds’.”
Prisoners detailed to the researchers how “easy” it was to be recalled, with simply missing a probation appointment, often enough to be sent back to jail.
One inmate, a daily Spice user, told researchers:
“… I’d not go [to my] probation [appointment] and come in and get paid £1,000 for coming in, you know what I mean, you get paid £1,000 for coming in full of Mamba for 2 week… I’d probably come back if someone offered me £1,000, if I needed it, that’s a down payment for a house that, you know what I mean? You don’t get that off no one else for cheap, unless I go out robbing, you know what I mean? It would be the safest fucking way coming back in here, just passing it on and think ‘Right, well I’ve been paid, two weeks and I’ll go home’. Madness!”
The report detailed how psychoactive legal highs had “swept though the prison system with devastating effects” for mental health, violent behaviour, physical wellbeing and offender rehabilitation.
Harmful effects include extreme violence, psychosis, addiction, self-harm and suicidal thoughts, researchers said.
The report also detailed other methods used to smuggle the substance into prisons, including the use of drones and spraying a liquid version of Spice on to children’s drawings.
Researchers said the impact of legal highs on the prison system had been outlined in previous HM Inspectorate of Prisons reports, which had linked its use with a surge in serious assaults, self-harm and suicides.
“The potency and addictiveness have been compared to heroin, violent incidents have increased, and they wreak harm on prisoners’ mental and physical health,” Ralphs said.
Despite the surge in use of undetectable legal highs, the Ministry of Justice has proposed expanding drug testing programmes which researchers say is the wrong approach. They want the Ministry of Justice to focus on harm reduction and education.
Ralphs said: “Drug testing policies should be reviewed. The introduction of testing for drugs such as cannabis in 1996 has led to 20 years of more problematic drug use. Firstly heroin and more recently the desire to avoid positive drug tests has fuelled the demand for synthetic cannabinoids.
“With so many strains, developing accurate mandatory drug testing is expensive and flawed. We recommend diverting money wasted on drug testing into prisoner education and training and staffing.”
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction recently identified 160 new strains of synthetic cannabinoids since the original variant, Spice, was banned in 2009. Spice was among a raft of legal highs to be banned under the Psychoactive Substances Act which came into force in May.
Ralphs said inmates had told researchers that “boredom” was the main reason for taking synthetic cannabinoids, followed by a desire to avoid detection.