Prisoner dies after ‘drug overdose’ at HMP Forest Bank in Salford
Death at prison which was under pressure to tackle use of new psychoactive substances is 16th in England and Wales in a month.
A prisoner has died after a suspected drug overdose at Forest Bank prison in Greater Manchester.
The inmate is believed to have taken the potent synthetic drug spice before becoming ill at the category B prison in Pendlebury, Salford. He died in jail on Sunday morning.
Another prisoner was taken to Manchester Royal Infirmary on Saturday; a prison spokeswoman said the incidents were unrelated.
The death is the 16th in prisons in England and Wales since the start of this year, equivalent to more than one every other day, according to the civil rights group Inquest. There were 345 recorded deaths across the prison estate in 2016, one-third of which were suicides and 57 of which are yet to be classified.
Forest Bank has been under pressure to tackle the widespread use of so-called new psychoactive substances (NPSs), formerly known as legal highs, since footage emerged of drug-fuelled violence between inmates last October.
A spokeswoman for the prison said: “We can confirm there was a death in custody at HMP Forest Bank on 29 January. Deaths in custody are a tragedy. The next of kin have been informed and our thoughts are with the family.
“As with all deaths in custody, there will be an investigation by the police, and the independent prisons and probation ombudsman, and therefore we are unable to comment further at this stage.”
A spokeswoman for the North West ambulance service confirmed that paramedics were called to Forest Bank at 9.19am on Saturday and took a patient to Manchester Royal Infirmary.
The service was called again at 8.06am on Sunday “and nobody was taken to hospital”, the spokeswoman said. It is understood that this second callout was in relation to the death in custody.
A prisoner at Forest Bank said the use of spice in the prison had reached catastrophic levels. “Half the jail is on the stuff and the other half spend their time keeping out of the way of those using the drug,” they said. Two recent inspections of the prison, run by the French multinational Sodexo, found that drugs were “easily available” and fuelling violence among its 1,500 inmates.
A report published last February by the chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, found “some very good outcomes for prisoners”, but said there were high levels of self-harm and inmates who were “too frightened to come out of their cells”.
Clarke said the number of violent incidents had “increased sharply” since 2012 and that 42% of them were linked to the use of NPSs. The report said: “Despite the prison’s generally proactive approach to improving safety, we found prisoners who were effectively self-isolating, too frightened to come out of their cells.
“Levels of self-harm were high and formal case management often weak. Prisoners in crisis held on normal location told us that they received good support, but too many were isolated, held in segregation or subject to other restrictions.”
NPSs, such as spice and black mamba, were criminalised in May last year after being linked to a rise in prison violence in 2015. The Office for National Statistics said there were 76 deaths involving legal highs in England and Wales between 2004 and 2013.
The Prison Service launched an investigation after footage filmed in Forest Bank showed an inmate, who appeared to be hallucinating because of the effect of drugs, writhing on a bed in his cell and cowering in fear at the sight of an apple. In another clip, two naked prisoners were seen on all fours barking like dogs while their two other inmates controlled them with leads.
An earlier inspection by a government-backed independent monitoring board (IMB) described Forest Bank as an “excellent-performing prison”, but raised concerns that newly criminalised drugs such as spice were leading to soaring violence.
The increasing finds of NPSs within the prison “would appear to be a significant factor” in the growing violence at Forest Bank, according to the IMB report, published last March.
Between January and October 2015, prison staff recovered more than 4.4kg (9.7lb) of NPSs, the report said, as well as 114g of cannabis and 21g of heroin. Inspectors said the location of Forest Bank, in a country park, made the prison susceptible to people throwing packages of drugs and mobile phones over the wall overnight, and during exercise periods.
Three prisoners died at the prison between 1 November 2014 and 31 October 2015, the IMB said.