Our Work / Corruption in the UK / Prisons

Corruption in prisons

Prison corruption

Previous research has noted that corruption in the prison system is both more widespread and deep-rooted than previously acknowledged. Research from Transparency International UK (TI-UK) suggests that even these conclusions could underestimate the true extent of prison corruption, since they omit three key factors: the risk of non-prison officer staff being involved in corruption; the impact of organised crime within the prison population; and the symbiosis between corruption and performance management.


Types of prison corruption

TI-UK’s research shows that the prison service has a significant problem with smuggling (particularly drugs and mobile phones) and although the official explanation is that such contraband is brought inside prison by family and friends, there is considerable evidence to suggest that it is also brought in by corrupt prison staff:  
  • There are an estimated 1000 prison officers currently engaged in corruption 
  • It is estimated that a further 600 officers are involved in an inappropriate relationship with a prisoner
  • Additional staff, who outweigh the number of prison officers working within the system, are just as likely to be approached by a potential corrupter. However, such members of staff only receive a single hour’s worth of training in the form of a DVD from the United States.
  • The drugs trade within prisons is worth approximately £100 million a year, with the price of drugs inside prison inflated to around 1,000 per cent of their street value.
  • Mobile phones (and SIM cards) are another extremely valuable commodity, and particularly crucial for the operation of organised crime within prisons. 
  • Official NOMS  figures show that 3,473 phones and SIM cards were confiscated in 2006/07. This figure increased to 8,487 in 2007/08.

Is the prison sector in denial?

Corruption risks have been routinely ignored by policy makers and the prison service has reduced its capacity to monitor and investigate corruption. Although a recent report  on drugs in prisons recommended that the budget of the Corruption Prevention Unit (CPU) be increased by 5million to tackle the problem, the CPU has recently had its budget and numbers of staff reduced and its Chief Executive has retired, without being replaced.
TI-UK recommends that
  • The Home Office should commission an independent assessment of corruption risks in the prison service in order to identify priority areas for reform.   
  • The prison service’s corruption prevention unit’s financial and human resources should be restored to previous levels with a new Chief Executive appointed to provide effective leadership.