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  • Writer's pictureKaigan

Imprisoned for Being a Corrupt Prison Officer

I sat down with Lee, a former prison officer in England who was caught taking contraband into prison for prisoners and was subsequently sentenced to two years in prison. Conversations with ‘bent screws’ as they’re called in the prison world intrigue me. I want to understand why they decide to abuse their position of power and the trust the state has placed in them.

Lee was in his early 20s when he joined the prison service. In hindsight, he said he didn’t really like the job. Like many before him he didn’t have a real desire to work in prison, he was driven by the stability of the job. After a while in the role, he was asked by a young male prisoner to bring a phone in for him. He initially refused but before long he had agreed to meet strangers on the outside to get the phone.

“My morals had gone straight out the window…I’ve come from a family where things like that just don’t happen, you don’t do bad things…I was trying to convince myself that I’ve only done it once but deep down, I’ll be honest, when someone puts £500 in your hand for doing that and at the time I was probably only earning £22,000, it may have been greed, stupidity, adrenaline, but I’d just gone by that point.”

This carried on for 10 to 12 months, during which time it was taking its toll on his wellbeing. He had decided enough was enough and he wasn’t going to continue. At the time he had several packages in his home ready to take into the prison. He was at home one day reading a newspaper when he saw a spread about corruption in English prisons. One of the photos was of a prisoner with a mobile phone in a cell. The prisoner was the one Lee had been taking contraband in for, so the phone was likely one of the phones Lee had taken in for him. Lee spent the rest of his annual leave worrying that he had been caught.

On his first week back to work, he decided to take the rest of the contraband in as one package rather than two so that he could stop engaging in this offending behaviour. Upon arriving at the prison, armed with the contraband, he was caught. He initially denied having any contraband on him but he then surrendered it before the search team had to find it.   

Lee goes to prison and Inside Time, a newspaper distributed to prisoners, prints a spread about him. It is passed round all the prisoners in his prison so they all know he is a ‘bent screw’ quite quickly.

Lee goes on to talk about minimising staff bringing contraband into a prison,

“If we were truly trying to stop drugs coming into a prison, why have we only got two search dog teams in the North [of England]? I think I was [working in that prison] for three or four years and I got properly searched two or three times. You get a pat down search more frequently…but it doesn’t take a genius to work out the window of opportunity.”

I asked Lee what he’d like to see in prisons to minimise contraband coming in.

“I would like to see, and they can buy them, body scanners where you actually have to sit on a scanner…I’m sure the prison service, if they truly wanted to stop drugs and contraband entering the wings, would install these machines and have dogs at every prison.”

A final note from me:

It seems there are many parts to the problem of staff bringing in contraband to prisons. Firstly, the staff who are doing it need to take full accountability and how we prevent staff from choosing to become corrupt, well, I’ll leave that to the experts to decide. However, I agree with Lee that prison services should be doing more to ensure staff are searched much more thoroughly and regularly to ensure they aren’t getting contraband inside. Thirdly, I can only imagine how difficult working in a prison is. Yes, some people who are in prison are decent people. But some of them are master manipulators. While I haven’t experienced it first-hand, I’ve spoken to many prison officers and read enough prison memoirs to understand that some prisoners can be extremely charming in an attempt to get a staff member to do something for them. Prison staff have told me before that they feel staff need ongoing support to ensure they aren’t vulnerable to corruption. A number of sources suggest that prison staff is the main way contraband makes its way inside our prisons so it’s definitely an issue worth talking about.


You can listen to my full conversation with Lee here.


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