Nearly 100 criminals try to become prison officers

EXCLUSIVE: Nearly 100 criminals convicted of drug-dealing, robbery, arson and violent assaults have tried to become prison officers in the past year

  • Criminals convicted of violent offences as well as racism are among applicants
  • Investigation finds would-be prison officers also include arsonist and robbers
  • Alarming figures have raised fears of corruption and security risk in jails
  • One justice campaigner likened it to ‘lunatics literally taking over the asylum’

Nearly 100 criminals convicted of drug-dealing, robbery, arson and violent assaults have tried to become prison officers – sparking corruption fears behind bars.

An investigation by MailOnline has uncovered a rogues gallery of offenders who have attempted to get the high security roles.

Among the 90 individuals are some 169 convictions or cautions, with crimes ranging from battery and assault to misconduct in a public office.

Others include shoplifting, using racially abusive words, harassment and possession of a knife.

The findings suggest fears aired by the National Police Chiefs’ Council some three years ago of gangs infiltrating prisons to smuggle in contraband are still very real.    

In March this year Rio Moran, 30, was jailed for two years after helping get drugs into HMP Doncaster where she worked.

Rio Moran, 30, jailed for two years after helping get drugs into the prison where she worked

HMP Doncaster where Ms Moran worked was where she helped to get drugs in behind bars

And last month prison officer Emma Johnson, 25. was imprisoned for smuggling iPhones into HMP Sudbury for an inmate she had fallen in love with.

Speaking about MailOnline’s findings, David Spencer, Research Director at the Centre for Crime Prevention, said: ‘It is crazy that convicted criminals would even be considered for jobs as prison officers.

‘It would clearly present a huge potential security risk as well as increase the prospects of contraband being smuggled into prisons and even crime lords continuing their nefarious activities behind bars.

‘The lunatics would literally be taking over the asylum and this is one instance where sanity has to prevail.’

Former Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville added: ‘If the vetting is anything like the police, you don’t know who might have managed to slither through if these are the ones that have been flagged.

‘It is crazy to think cons are trying to look after cons. There is already corruption in prisons with people smuggling contraband in. They don’t need this on top of it.’ 

David Whitfield, guilty of misconduct in public office and jailed for six years and nine months

HMP Low Newton (pictured above) where David Whitfield had worked and carried out offence

Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service do not have a blanket ban on employing staff with criminal records.

But all of those applying to work inside a jail do have to undergo a security vetting process.

One of the systems is a Disclosure and Barring Service Check, which is designed to help employers make safer recruitment decisions.

The data obtained by MailOnline came through the Freedom of Information Act and shows the number of convicted criminals applying for the prison service role in the past year.

Emma Johnson, 25, made thousands of pounds and discussed how much money she was making with serving prisoner Marcus Solomon

The court that the pair had met when Johnson was working as a senior prison officer at HMP Sudbury (pictured) in Derbyshire

Most common offences of crooks trying to become prison officers 

Drink-driving – 28

Battery – 14

Possession of goods with false trademark for sale or hire –  12

Assault occasioning ABH – 12

Fail to notify change (benefits) – 8

Criminal damage – 7

Resist or obstruct constable – 5

Robbery – 3

Breach of non-molestation order – 3

Burglary – 1 

Arson – 1

Misconduct in public office – 1

 Source: MailOnline FOI request

Criminal records are not a definitive bar to becoming a prison office and decisions on suitability are made on a case-by-case basis.

It is understood it means the Ministry of Justice does not centrally hold information on how many of the 90 criminals uncovered in the figures were accepted for the role. 

In 2019 Assistant Chief Constable Jason Hogg, the then National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead on prison intelligence, said he feared organised criminals were asking associates or family members to secure jobs with the intention of sneaking illegal items behind bars.

He said he ‘strongly suspected’ gangs were infiltrating the prison service, but explained it was difficult to prove.

‘There are some examples of staff, very soon after they work in that prison estate, whether it’s as a prison officer or a maintenance worker, if you like, they move towards supplying contraband,’ Mr Hogg said at the time.

Mark Fairhurst, the national chairman of the Prison Officers Association, also said it was ‘very easy’ to traffic drugs and other illicit items into prisons, with officers rarely searched.

‘We have got intelligence to suggest people – prison officers and civilian staff – have been targeted and recruited by criminal gangs to get drugs into prisons,’ he said.

‘It’s very rare. Less than 1 per cent of our staff are corrupt, but it does happen.’

The Ministry of Justice and Prison Service said it would provide a comment. 

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