Police and crime commissioner for Essex supports call for spice to be made a Class A drug

PUBLISHED: 13:13 12 September 2018

Roger Hirst (Con)

Roger Hirst (Con)

Archant

The police, fire and crime commissioner for Essex, Roger Hirst, has signed a letter to the Home Office calling for ‘spice’ to be made a Class A drug as prison officers say they are struggling to cope.

The letter, signed by all Conservative police and crime commissioners, was written by Marc Jones, commissioner for Lincolnshire.

Mr Jones says the challenges faced by the drug are an “urgent public health issue that is growing in size”.

“The wide scale abuse of these debilitating drugs within towns, cities and even villages across the UK is one of the most severe public health issues we have faced in decades and presently the response to tackle the issue is woefully inadequate,” Mr Jones wrote.

Spice is currently a Class B drug, rooted in the chemical similarities with cannabis.

However, Mr Jones says spice is more comparable with Class A drugs such as heroin and says the dealers who “peddle this misery” should be treated with the same severity and concern.

Mr Hirst says he is doing all he can to look at ways to solve the problem.

He said: “Making spice a Class A drug is just one way of tackling a very complex drug problem. We need to be supportive of health interventions to get people off drugs. Drug use and its supply has such an impact on our communities and I am doing all that I can to look at ways we can solve the problem together.

“Last Tuesday, I attended a Government workshop on county drug lines and on behalf of the Safer Essex Partnership my office has compiled a violence and vulnerability framework which links into the priorities in my police and crime plan.

“The framework looks at how we, alongside our partners across Essex, can respond effectively to the violence and harm associated with county lines, organised crime groups, urban street gangs, and drug supply.”

The Professional Trades Union for Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers (POA) says spice is rife across prisons and they have ‘grave concerns’ for their frontline members.

“It appears that Her Majesty’s Probation and Prison Service (HMPPS) is unable to stop the level of violence rising and whilst they say that recruitment is at an all time high, their inability to retain staff paints a very different picture.

“Spice is rife across the estate; frontline officers are suffering from the second hand inhalation of the drug. Many have been taken to hospital or have had to go off duty. HMPPS need to act to protect their staff but they are failing to do so.

“Prison officers are also dealing with prisoners who are under the influence of spice. Symptoms can range from death or a comatose state to some one who is extremely violent with no control over their bodily functions.

“HMPPS are failing in their duty to protect their staff. They are aware of technology that can help such as drone blockers, airport style body scanners and other forms of equipment but they always put it down to cost.

“You cannot put a price on life but HMPPS are taking that chance.”

A spokesman for the Prison Service said the health and safety of prison officers comes first and it had strict procedures to ensure officers do not enter rooms where there is a risk of inhaling spice fumes.

“New psychoactive substances are a game changer for prison safety, and we are addressing this head on by investing £14 million each year to stop the criminal gangs responsible for the illicit drugs trade,” the spokesman said.

“The best way to keep staff and inmates safe is to keep drugs out of our prisons which is why we recently announced a further £8m investment in prison security building on our rollout of airport-style body scanners, improved searching techniques and phone-blocking technology.”

It is now a criminal offence to possess psychoactive substances in prison and a new measure involving prisoners only being allowed photocopies of their post, including children’s drawings, to prevent paper soaked in new psychoactive substances from entering prison has reduced incidents across the estate.

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