A while back the Ministry of Justice changed the rules regarding how prisoners in high security prisons are searched following visits with their families. They said that 100% of category A prisoners still needed to be strip searched, but category B prisoners no longer had to be. Instead, they said, each prison should set a percentage of category B prisoners who would be strip searched at random. Most high security prisons did this immediately, setting the percentage at between ten and twenty percent. Not HMP Frankland. They did nothing.
A prisoner I knew complained about this, taking the complaint all the way to the prisons and probation ombudsman. At this point, HMP Frankland claimed that they had reviewed their procedures and set a percentage of category B prisoners to be strip searched. They just happened to set that percentage at 100%. The ombudsman rejected the complaint and sided with the prison on the grounds that the governor had said that they needed to strip search all category B prisoners because category B prisoners and category A prisoners are mixed together for visits. Despite the fact that this did not seem to be a problem for any other high security prison, it seemed to be enough of an explanation for the ombudsman, until the prisoner telephoned them and pointed out that the Ministry of Justice are fully aware of how prisons operate, and would have taken account of the fact that category B and category A prisoners mix on visits before deciding that this still did not necessitate the strip searching of 100% of cat Bs.
The ombudsman agreed, and changed the conclusion of their case, asking Frankland to review the percentage that would be searched. But Frankland did not do this. They just carried on as they always had done. When another prisoner then complained to the ombudsman separately, referencing the ruling against Frankland that had already been made, the ombudsman backed down against the prison! They said that Frankland staff had told them that they had to strip search all prisoners for undisclosable security reasons. And that was enough.
It would seem that common sense had no place at any stage of that débâcle. But it actually gets worse. Despite being the only high security prison in the country who insist on strip searching 100% of their prisoners, they are also the only prison in the country to have a sign in their visits room which, in one part, reads as follows:
“We do not strip search visitors to this establishment as it has been shown that this would not prevent the smuggling of contraband.”
So if strip searching the visitors doesn’t prevent the smuggling of contraband, how does strip searching the prisoners they are visiting prevent the smuggling of contraband? And if it doesn’t, why is it so important to strip search them?
Maybe they’re not trying to find contraband. Maybe they’re trying to find a spare bit of common sense.