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Prison drug detection improving

Northward Prison

By Charles Duncan

Prison officials say they stopped one visitor last week from smuggling in a pound of marijuana, adding to several more pounds they seized in February.

Ganja use at Northward Prison is a well-known and long-standing issue and cell phones are commonplace, according to independent inspections in recent years.

Officers have been working in both traditional and new ways to stop drugs from getting in. Guards still patrol the walls, but they are joined by surveillance drones keeping an eye out for smugglers coming through the bush to throw packages.

In a statement announcing the most-recent seizures, Prison Director Neil Lavis said: “We have zero tolerance when it comes to preventing drugs or any kind of prohibited materials from entering the prison.”

He continued: “We have taken the necessary precautions and increased our surveillance throughout. We have also increased our success rate in the discovery of illicit items by detecting the ways it’s transported into the prison, and how it’s being concealed once inside.”

Officers arrested a woman visiting the prison on Sunday Mar. 5 when they caught her with a pound of ganja, according to prison officials. Prison officers also confiscated a cell phone the same day during a search.

In late February, a prison officer patrolling the outer perimeter found a masked man with several pounds of ganja running toward the fence at Northward, according to a statement from the Prison Service. The officer, Michael Taylor, gave chase on foot and arrested the man.

Trying to prevent people from smuggling drugs and phones into the prison is a constant fight for prison guards.


Drugs and phones in the prison is nothing new. Two inspections by the United Kingdom’s Inspectorate of Prisons over the past five years, first in 2012 and again in 2015, found inmates had relatively easy access to ganja and other contraband.

“The smell of cannabis pervaded throughout the establishment at all times of the day and night,” the 2012 report stated. Prisoners told inspectors at the time that it was easy to get drugs and alcohol into Northward and guards did nothing to stop smuggling.

Three years later, another U.K. inspection found ganja still easily accessible at Northward. The 2015 report states: “The availability of illegal drugs, particularly marijuana, in Northward remained high.”

In 2015 the inspectors cited a survey they took of prisoners and the frequency guards were finding things like drugs and phones. The result, they write, “indicated a high availability of drugs and other contraband, including in sensitive areas such as the high-risk unit where a number of mobile telephones had recently been discovered.”

“In our Northward survey, 35 percent of respondents said that it was easy to get drugs at the prison, which was similar to the figure at the time of the previous inspection,” the report states.
Since inspectors released their most recent findings in 2015, prison officials have increasingly released statements to the public and the press about smuggling incidents guards have stopped.


Prison officials launched some new measures to help patrol the perimeter around Northward Prison, which backs up to a large area of bush.

The prison bought its own fleet of drones, they haven’t said how many, to increase guards’ ability to find smugglers coming through the dense bush. The United States magazine Newsweek reported that Cayman’s prison service is the first in the world to deploy unmanned aerial vehicles to stop smuggling.

The prison director said the drones are safer and less expensive than having guards constantly patrolling the area around Northward. “The vacant land leaves the prisons perimeter vulnerable to those intent on trafficking contraband. However, with the aid of the drone, more area can be covered and once detected, will be able to assist in locating suspects and drugs,” Mr. Lavis said last year.

According to statements from the Prison Service, officers are working with local drone operator AirVu to fly the small quadcopters equipped with surveillance cameras.

The programme had immediate success. During an early training session last year, officers spotted two men sneaking away from the prison grounds. They didn’t catch the men, but they did find a large stash of drugs that had been thrown over the perimeter fence.

“We were just coming to the end of training when we spotted people leaving the prison area,” Mr. Lavis told Newsweek. “While we weren’t able to catch the people involved, we were able to use the drone to locate the drugs and quickly retrieve them.”

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