A prisoner was electrocuted while trying to smoke drugs from a vape attached to a mains socket.
Grant Alam, 28, was found dead in his cell at HMP Garth in February 2019. A post-mortem confirmed that he had died from an electric shock, while tests found that he had a Spice-type drug in his system.
A former cellmate told the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman that since the smoking ban, prisoners would regularly attach vape machines to wires in plug sockets to create a flame to smoke psychoactive substances (PS). He said that smokers would sometimes receive a mild electric shock or burn while using the technique, but nothing more serious.
The Ombudsman’s report, published this month, found that drugs including PS were widely available at Garth, but that the prison had taken steps to tackle the problem. However, it also found that staff had failed to submit intelligence reports and refer Alam to the prison’s substance misuse service on previous occasions when he had been suspected of using PS. It called on the governor to ensure that the prison’s substance misuse strategy it followed in future.
Inspectors who visited Garth in 2019 found that 60 per cent of prisoners said drugs were easy to obtain, 30 per cent tested positive for drugs and over a quarter said they had developed a drug habit since being at the prison. However, they concluded that the situation had improved since their previous inspection.
Alam was jailed in 2012 and most of the following seven years in prison, barring a few weeks out on licence. He moved to Garth in 2015, where he was repeatedly caught brewing illicit alcohol and using drugs.
Prison records showed that in the weeks before his death, an electrician was called to his cell on two occasions to reset the electrics because they had been been tripped. On one occasion it was found that he had put metal blades in the plug socket, and these were removed.
A week before his death, he was put on the basic regime for repeated poor behaviour, and he was again caught with hooch and a distilling kit in his cell.
On 21 February, 2019, CCTV showed him laughing with other prisoners as he was locked up at 7.15pm. An officer who carried out a roll check at 8pm reported that he seemed fine. He did not press his cell bell overnight.
The following morning at 5.15am, an officer doing the morning roll check found him unresponsive, leaning back on his chair in a “weird position”, with his arms spread and legs arched, with his light on and music playing. An ambulance was called but he was found to have been dead for some hours.
There were warnings when the smoking ban was introduced in English prisons that it could lead to dangers of electrocution. A 2017 inspection report on HMP Channings Wood, which had banned smoking the previous year, found that prisoners were cutting the flexes of their kettles to provide sparks to light illicit roll-ups.
At one prison in Australia, four staff are reported to have suffered electric shocks in separate incidents due to foil being left in power sockets by prisoners who had put it there to create flames.