A NEIGHBOURHOOD Watch-style scheme at Saughton Prison has been hailed following a 76 per cent drop in drugs, mobile phones and other illegal items being smuggled over the jail walls.
The Prison Watch programme, which is the first of its kind in Scotland, was set up to encourage residents living near the jail to report any suspicious activity to a hotline number.
Prison bosses believe its deterrent effect on smugglers, combined with tip-offs that led to contraband thrown over the walls being seized, is behind its success.
Between February 20, when the scheme was launched, and this Tuesday, a total of 28 packages containing contraband were recovered after being thrown over the perimeter wall compared to 128 last year.
Inside these 20 packages were 41 mobile phones, 22 phone chargers, eight leads for mobiles, nine sim cards, 121g of cannabis, four grammes of heroin and 212 tablets.
Sue Brookes, governor of HM Prison Edinburgh, said: “The scheme has been even more successful than I could have expected. A lot of the impact has been about deterrence because there are Prison Watch adverts all round the perimeter so people know they are being watched.
“It is being run alongside intelligence gathering, structured searches and routine patrols, but since its launch we have seen these large reductions in phones and drugs, as well as a general decrease in violence.
“We are getting calls from people reporting suspicious activity outside the walls. That has included people gathering there and car lights being flashed, which is often a signal to inmates that something is coming over. That has given us time to find contraband which has been thrown over the walls.”
The Prison Watch service has also been encouraging visitors to the jail to report any suspected smuggling.
A total of 48 cases are currently waiting to be heard at Edinburgh Sheriff Court involving individuals accused of smuggling items in to the prison.
A dedicated prison link officer from Lothian and Borders Police now works with guards to develop intelligence about smuggling activities.
This has also seen improved evidence gathering at the jail, with all seized packages now being bagged before undergoing DNA tests.
Ms Brookes added that scanners were being used to search for phone signals coming from inside the prison, along with metal detectors.
Chief superintendent Gill Imery, Edinburgh’s divisional commander, said the partnership between the force and prison staff had yielded positive results.
She said: “We are delighted that the early results appear to show a significant reduction in the contraband being smuggled.
“Prison Watch is a fantastic example of a close working partnership between the police, the prison service, and especially the local community, and I would like to thank those both within and outside the walls for embracing the scheme.
“We are also aware that the families and friends of prisoners may be vulnerable to approaches from criminals and forced to smuggle drugs and other illegal items into the premises.”
The Prison Watch hotline number is 0131-444 3111.