Keeping drugs out of prisons is “impossible” due to massive demand from inmates, according to a boss at one of Scotland’s biggest jails.
Sean McFedries, head of operations at HMP Barlinnie in Glasgow, said that although “everything was being done” to prevent drugs being smuggled behind bars, it would still happen.
McFedries, who has held the post since 2018, also said “there is not a jail fix” for the issue. His comments on him emerged from a Fatal Accident Inquiry at Glasgow Sheriff Court over the death of James McCulloch, 27.
He was found unresponsive in his cell at Barlinnie by staff in March 2020 but a post-mortem found his cause of death was “unascertained”.
An investigation revealed a “homemade smoking pipe” was in his cell and tests showed he had ingested a legal high known as synthetic cannabinoid.
The substances are commonly smuggled into jails after being soaked into sheets of paper and later smoked.
In a written judgment, Sheriff Thomas Hughes said: “It is widely reported and known that illicit drugs find their way into and circulate within the prison establishment.
“This occurs despite robust efforts to combat and prevent this. This is not a problem unique to HMP Barlinnie. The affidavit from Sean McFedries is particularly useful to the inquiry in regard to this issue.
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“The affidavit provides a detailed overview of the measures employed by the SPS at HMP Barlinnie. Mr McFedries’ evidence as to the efforts employed by HMP Barlinnie to prevent drugs entering the prison was of benefit to this inquiry.
“There are extensive operations employed by prison authorities to halt and disrupt the supply of illicit drugs into the prison estate.
“Of note, Mr McFedries described a constant battle to meet the challenges posed by those who would seek to introduce drugs to the prison.
“He described the various methods by which such substances may enter the prison estate along with the preventative and disruptive actions taken by the prison.”
McCulloch had been jailed after being caught with almost £100,000 worth of ecstasy tablets in East Kilbride and was not set to be released until July 2025.
Sheriff Hughes ruled there were no precautions which could have been taken to avoid his death and passed on his condolences to family members.
Earlier this year, Barlinnie became the first jail in Scotland to introduce a body scanner as part of efforts to cut down on contraband smuggling.
All Scottish jails now photocopy prisoners’ mail to prevent letters soaked in substances entering cells.
An SPS spokesperson said it had “a wide range of robust security measures in place”, adding: “We continue to invest in technology to better detect suspicious substances and work closely with Police Scotland to garner intelligence to ensure the safety of staff and those in our care.”
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.