Ranby jail reduces population after inspectors’ warning over ‘legal highs’

Emergency action has been taken to reduce the population of a Nottinghamshire jail by 120 inmates because it was in danger of being overwhelmed by a destabilising surge in the supply of “legal highs”.

The immediate temporary reduction in the 1,000-strong population in HMP Ranby followed a warning during an official inspection of the jail during August and September last year where many of the men are serving long sentences for serious offences.

Martin Lomas, the deputy chief inspector of prisons, recommended the emergency action saying staff at the jail needed to regroup in the face of a surge in the availability of new psychoactive substances – legal highs – in the jail and because it was struggling to cope with its dual roles as a working and resettlement prison.

Nearly 60% of prisoners told the inspectors that it was easy to get drugs inside the jail: “Health services were at risk of being overwhelmed by the need to treat the most seriously affected,” said the inspectors in their report on Ranby published on Thursday.

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“As we walked round the prison, we saw a number of prisoners who were clearly under the influence of new psychoactive substances; some had been left with other prisoners to check they did not deteriorate because there was no available health care services or other staff to do so. In addition to the health consequences, the trade in new psychoactive substances was leading to high levels of debt and associated violence.”

The inspectors say that the drugs problem at the jail was on top of “an already dangerous mix” of high levels of frustration caused by the lack of work in some of the workshops which meant too many inmates had too little to do and were bored.

They found that safety was a major concern with a much higher than normal level of violent incidents: “In one incident, a group of prisoners muscled into a wing office to take back a ‘throw-over’ package of drugs that had just been intercepted by staff,” the inspectors report. There had been four self-inflicted deaths at the jail since April and a further death which is being treated as homicide, they added.

An extract from the full article which may be read in The Guardian 2015

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Tony Blair admits he is baffled by rise of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn

Tony Blair has said he is struggling to understand the appeal of Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn because both are hampered by “the question of electability”.

The former British prime minister, a supporter of Hillary Clinton, admitted that he is finding it hard to grasp popular movements in both Britain and the USfavouring mavericks who will “rattle the cage” and which reflect a loss of faith in the progressive centre.

In a joint interview with the Guardian and the Financial Times in Washington, he emphasised that Americans must make their own decision but made clear his scepticism about Sanders, the leftwing senator whose challenge to wealthy eliteshas energised young supporters.

“It’s very similar to the pitch of Jeremy Corbyn,” Blair said. “Free tuition fees: well, that’s great, but someone’s going to have pay for it. An end to war, but there are wars.” But not wars with quite the ramifications of the Iraq war eh Tony?

Rob the poor and give to the rich – housing policy for 2016

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This afternoon, MPs will vote on a proposed law. As a bit of policy, it is as belligerently incoherent as a drunk at 2am. As a piece of politics, it will harm millions of people, while making one of the gravest crises facing our country even worse. Yet I’m fairly sure this piece will be one of the few across the press and the BBC even to discuss it.

Granted, the housing and planning bill can never outdo the excitement surrounding the ups and downs of Hilary Benn, the new Mr Darcy of every wet-eyed columnist. But the UK housing market is a catastrophe so dire that it causes even Manhattanites to marvel. A recent Guardian interactive makes the point: any would-be homebuyer earning the national average of £26,500 will now find 91% of England and Wales beyond their reach. If you can’t buy, you rent – except in London, the epicentre of the madness where rents are so extortionate, newspapers compete for horror stories. Considerthe £480 a month charged for a mattress in the corner of a communal lounge in a shed in the east end.

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You don’t need me to lather on facts and figures. Anyone trying to get a toehold in the housing market, or whose children are, already knows how badly broken it is – and grasps the implications. How it gouges money from those who don’t own only to put it in the pockets of those who do. How it forces anyone from outside London either to accept that they won’t be able to pursue a modestly paying career there – or will have to grind out at least a decade of expensive squalor to do so. And how that makes the UK both more unjust and economically weaker.

David Cameron knows all this. He even makes speeches about how homes in Britain are unaffordable to Britons. The bill in front of MPs is meant to free up social housing for those most in need and to make land and funds available for builders to churn out more private homes. In reality, it will make private homes even more unaffordable while cutting further the stock of homes available below market rent.

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Look at the axe the government is taking to social housing. Before the 2010 general election, Cameron promised to “support” social housing while his soon-to-be ministers pledged to “protect social tenants’ rights and rents”. Now he’s phasing out secure tenancies for those same tenants. A couple living in a council home who earn a total of £30,000 a year (£40,000 within London) – that is, just above minimum wage – will be moved up to market rents. The Treasury will also force local authorities to flog “high value” homes once a family moves out. That spells the end for council housing in central London – specialists estimate that 60% of Camden’s housing stock and 70% of Islington’s would qualify as “high value”.

Couple it with what’s already happening in the private rental market – where poorer families are being pushed out to London’s perimeter, and you have a charter for turning the centre of the city into a rich-only enclave.

If this sounds like the sort of post-adolescent fantasy that would be sketched out in some Westminster thinktank, that’s because it is. Many of these policies have been lifted from the rightwing Policy Exchange. Until 2014 its former housing specialist, Alex Morton, churned out pamphlets such as Ending Expensive Social Tenancies, notably mainly for their flush-cheeked libertarianism, casual dismissal of the rights of those not on stellar incomes, and subheadings such as “Most people actually support forcing people to move from expensive properties”.

For such Rolls-Royce thinking, Morton is now paid somewhere between £53,000 and £69,999 of taxpayers’ money as a special adviser to the prime minister on housing policy – one of Cameron’s fleet of advisers whose salaries cost the public over £9m a year.

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But what sounds good at a conference fringe meeting doesn’t always translate into robust law, and the housing bill has more holes than all the golf courses in suburbia. Try this: the household income assessment of council tenants will be based on the previous year’s earnings. So a family could go through redundancy, divorce or even death and still be forced to cough up “market rents”. Or this: the amount a council is meant to net from the sale of a publicly owned home will be set not by local surveyors, but by Treasury officials. Or this: although the bill’s fixed-term tenancies are aimed at making social housing more flexible, it provides no viable mechanism for evicting antisocial tenants before the term is up.

These are just some of the howlers in a document drafted by the Department for Communities and Local Government – the bit of Whitehall that will be almost obliterated in the spending cuts. As housing lawyer Giles Peaker says: “I seriously wonder who’s left in DCLG who actually understands housing law.”

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The contradictions gape wider and wider. The government that plans to make more use of limited council housing also wants to sell council housing. The ministers who want to make work pay will also make work cost more for council tenants. The administration that think these changes are excellent for half the social-rented sector now won’t apply them to the other half – housing associations – on anything more than a voluntary basis.

Cameron’s big solution to the housing shortage is to invent a new category, “starter homes”, and encourage developers to build them. Developers building homes at up to £450,000 in London and £250,000 in the rest of England will be able to claim them under the rules as “affordable”. As the housing charity Shelter points out, to buy a starter home in the capital by 2020 will require an annual income of £77,000 and a deposit of £98,000. That makes them unaffordable to all but the richest third of Londoners.

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Excerpt from an article written by Aditya Chakraboty in The Independent January 2016

Police in Suffolk & An Old Warning Issued Over Legal Highs

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Emergency services were called to a shop in in Chichestera at around 4pm on Tuesday (October 21) where a man was acting strangely and saying he felt unwell.

He then began damaging the shop, Eddie’s Convenience Store in Millfield Close, before running away and climbing a tree in Baxendale Road. Thankfully the man, a 26-year-old, didn’t do himself any serious damage; however it is believed he had taken so-called legal highs. He was arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and was later bailed until November 7 while investigations continue.

Another man was also taken to St Richard’s Hospital in Chichester suffering the effects from what is thought to be a legal high drug. He has since been released.

Police in the area are warning about legal highs after two men were also taken to hospital in Bognor Regis on Tuesday (October 21).

Police were called around 2.15pm to reports of two men taken ill at a property in Stocker Road. The men, both 19, were taken to hospital, but were discharged later that evening.

Detective Inspector Dave Grover said: “We believe all of these men may have taken some type of legal high which made them all very unwell. We urge people to take caution as legal highs often have great health risks. Just because a substance is legal to possess, it doesn’t mean it’s safe. In addition, other damaging health issues have been experienced including paranoid states, psychosis, hallucinations, comas and seizures.”

Police advise that there is a range of people to talk to and there are services available that offer support. They are there to listen to concerns, whether they be from the enquirer or someone they know. These include the NHS website www.nhs.uk and www.talktofrank.com

‘Legal highs are gateway drugs linked to crime’

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Police incidents in Hampshire involving legal highs – also called new psychoactive substances – have shot up from 63 to 403 in just three years, and that is expected to rise as they become more widespread and available to buy.

The message is loud and clear – people of all ages run the serious risk of death or causing permanent damage to their body and health if they buckle to peer pressure and continue to consume these ‘toxic cocktails’.

Doctor Jane Boskovic, who specialises in substance misuse at The Baytrees drink and drugs treatment unit, in Milton, Portsmouth, said: ‘Legal highs are incredibly dangerous and devastating. Having seen some of the devastating results of people taking legal highs, people should be absolutely terrified of taking these drugs. They are equally as dangerous as classic drugs, if not more.

‘Maybe it’s an exciting thing to try these drugs, but people really are playing Russian roulette with their lives.

‘The reason for that is …with legal highs, we don’t know the effect they all have on people’s bodies. They are very addictive in very vast quantities.’

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While some legal highs have been banned under the Misuse of Drugs Act – such as meow meow naphyrone, BZP and GBL – many alternatives are still legal to buy and we are seeking for a blanket ban to be rolled out by the government.

It comes as Portsmouth City Council launches a drive, supported by The News, aimed at increasing awareness of the risks associated with legal highs.

Packs containing posters and postcards are being sent to all secondary schools in the area and specialist training sessions are being held for staff and pupils. Pubs and clubs are also being sent posters, banners and leaflets.

And plans are moving forward to ban legal highs in Portsmouth’s public spaces.

Hampshire police and crime commissioner Simon Hayes, who has campaigned hard on the issue, said: ‘I am totally supportive of The News’ campaign against legal highs.

‘I hope it raises awareness of the very real danger they pose to the public and deters people from putting their lives at risk by using them.

‘For a long time, I have been calling for either a complete ban, or regulation, of all mind-altering substance.

‘Recently, I was very encouraged to hear the police minister say in parliament that he too would like to see a blanket ban on all new psychoactive substances and that we cannot – and should not – tolerate the open sale on our high streets and over the internet of these substances.

‘I intend to continue lobbying the government to do everything possible to prohibit the sale of these toxic cocktails and I look forward to collaborating with partners and the public to limit the harm they cause – particularly to our young people.’

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Portsmouth South MP Flick Drummond, who has worked with affected families and campaigned against the rise of legal high ‘head shops’, said: ‘You are putting your life in the hands of a small drug – it could kill you the first time you take them.’

AIMS OF THE CAMPAIGN

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* To ensure the government delivers on its pledge to impose a complete ban on the production, distribution, supply and sale of legal highs by formerly adopting the Psychoactive Substances Bill.

* To raise awareness of the lethal dangers of legal highs, especially among teenagers.

* To ensure other authorities follow the efforts made by Portsmouth City Council to come up with a comprehensive action plan detailing how the ban will be enforced, and who people should contact if they think someone is under the influence or suffering from the effects of legal highs.

* To ensure the government delivers on its pledge to impose a complete ban on the use and sale of legal highs by formerly adopting the Psychoactive Substances Bill.

* To raise awareness of the lethal dangers of legal highs, especially among teenagers.

* To ensure other authorities follow the efforts made by Portsmouth City Council to come up with a comprehensive action plan detailing how the ban will be enforced, and who people should contact if they think someone is under the influence or suffering from the effects of legal highs.

Why Bother With A Psychoactive Drugs Bill?

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Decriminalising drugs is all the rage or so it would seem so I thought I’d tell this story from the angle of ‘Sonia The Cleaner’. Sonia is thirty six years old and is raising four children ages eleven, fourteen, fifteen and twenty one. Sonia lives on the Stonebridge Estate in London, her children attend a very good comprehensive school run by dedicated teachers and her two youngest children are doing very well at school.

Not so the oldest, her grades have suddenly dropped, school attendance has become sporadic and at home she suffers from mood swings. There is one other pretty significant problem, she can disappear for days at a time and when she reappears for any length of time a much older male teenager turns up with her.

Sonia is confused, she’s checked her daughter’s room and apart from tons of ‘bath salts’ there are no other unusual elements in her daughter’s room. There are also no smells which might indicate that her daughter has a drugs problem, she simply can’t put her finger on it. There is one other thing though, and that is her daughter’s new friends way of moving, there is what one might call a deftness to his physical movements which seem slowed down and almost disconcertingly hypnotic when he is around her daughter. In fact she notices that when he is around there is a distinct alteration to her daughters moods & behaviour.

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Now, I don’t doubt that taking legal highs can be tremendous fun, but I’ve watched people have seizures because of these drugs and wind up in serious debt because of these drugs, drugs which are supposedly harmless which is why they are currently legal. Drug dealers have moved themselves off the streets and now can run ‘head shops’ selling drugs like Spice & Black Mamba because there is currently no law preventing them from doing so. Because these drugs are legal there is plenty of money to be made by ‘professional’ men raising their own families whilst destroying & in quite a few cases prostituting & enslaving vulnerable members of other people’s families.

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Ambulance staff and police officers find their hands full of people who having taken these drugs have had serious seizures or wound up dead, and yet these drugs are legal. Then there is the issue of money.Spice has become infamous because of it’s highly addictive nature and the withdrawal effects which are not dissimilar to those of Crack. It takes a lot of money to maintain a drugs habit this addictive, and since these drugs are being aimed at and taken mainly by the youth where’s this money going to come from? Prostitution?

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Thieving? Drug dealing to other teenagers? A lot of youth are winding up homeless because of some of these ‘legal’ highs so, as in Poole, Dorset, I suspect many will wind up resorting to prostitution (initially) then once they get a bit of cash they’ll turn to dealing.

There’s a thing in Poole when it comes to trying to work out whether a young person has taken to prostitution, legal highs you see usually contain ‘hypnotic drug elements’ therefore once taken, a semi-trance-like state has been voluntarily entered into by the drug user. With frequent use it might be added, this state becomes a semi-permanent thing.This you can unscrupulously make use of, if you know a bit about hypnotic techniques such as ‘sleight of mouth’ or covert hypnosis. In Poole, if you want to work out whether a homeless young female is on the game try a little ‘covert hypnosis’ if it works then they’ve very likely found a means of supporting their drug habit.

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Back to Sonia the cleaner whose fifteen year old daughter wound up in hospital after having a severe seizure, happily the nurses who treated her discovered a half empty pack of ‘bath salts’ in her jacket and were able to make the connection and treat her condition successfully. With the help of Sonia’s brother (a London based stockbroker), Sonia and her family have since moved to Poole in Dorset ( not everyone in Poole is a junkie!), her daughter is currently studying for her ‘A’ Levels at Bournemouth & Poole College. Sonia raised her daughter (using the direct non-hypnotic technique of parenting) to become a doctor, and it seems very likely that that is what she will now become.

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Theresa May’s futile war on psychoactive drugs (an excerpt from the original article)

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The relationship between politics and science has never been easy, but there has rarely been a more embarrassing mismatch than in our drug laws. Supposedly a measure to protect the health of the nation, we have arrived at a situation where some of the most dangerous drugs are legal, some of the least dangerous are prohibited, and where many of the dangers from drug use arise from their illicit supply. But even by the standards of this self-imposed prohibition of science, the new Psychoactive Substances Bill is a work of monumental ignorance that has taken drug legislation beyond the point of farce into the realm of surreal fantasy.

The motivation behind the bill is the wave of new psychoactive substances or legal highs. Grey market labs have rifled the scientific literature to create substances that produce similar effects to popular street drugs like cannabis, ketamine and ecstasy, but are different enough to avoid existing bans and are often significantly worse for your health. To try to address this problem, the government is trying a radically new approach: pretending that one of the most difficult problems in neuroscience – and one of the deep mysteries of consciousness – doesn’t apply to them. It’s a bold move, to say the least.

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The bottom line is, the only way of knowing whether a mystery substance alters the mind is to take it. Rather than banning a specific list of drugs, the government wants to outlaw the supply and production of all psychoactive substances and have a minimal list of government-approved highs. Unsurprisingly, booze, nicotine, and caffeine are allowed, alongside, rather vaguely, “any substance which is ordinarily consumed as food” but isn’t already banned.

But the scientific K-hole here is the fact that the law relies on adequately defining a “psychoactive substance”, which turns out to be scientifically impossible at the current time. It’s not that you can’t come up with a definition; in fact, the bill says it’s something that “by stimulating or depressing the person’s central nervous system, affects the person’s mental functioning or emotional state”. The problem is turning this into a law that unambiguously classifies substances as psychoactive or not.

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The bottom line is, the only way of knowing whether a mystery substance alters the mind is to take it. You simply can’t tell by chemical tests, because there is no direct mapping between molecular structure and mental experience. If you could solve the problem of working out whether a substance would affect the conscious mind purely from its chemistry, you would have done Nobel prize winning work on the the problem of consciousness. A second-rank approach is just to see whether a new substance is similar to a known family of mind-altering drugs, but even here there are no guarantees. A slight tweak can make a similar drug completely inactive and about as much fun as Theresa May at a techno night.

This is exactly the same problem that pharmaceutical companies face when developing psychiatric drugs, by the way. They can analyse molecules and give them to mice, but the true test – the acid test, if you will – only comes when a human swallows it. Labs that produce new legal highs use the simple expedient of giving them to their mates to test. But this liberty isn’t available to courts because “have a blast on this, your honour” turns out not to be a valid legal argument and giving mystery chemicals picked up by the police to human guinea pigs is a step too far even for the Home Office.

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This reliance on scientific impossibilities is really just a symptom of a wider neglect of an evidence-based drugs policy. You can see it throughout the process. At the end of October, May wrote to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs about the bill, as she is required to by law. In line with tradition, she rejected their scientific recommendations but she also wrote to assure them that homeopathy, a practice based entirely on pseudoscience involving sugar pills with no active ingredient, would be specifically excluded from any ban. It’s the scientific equivalent of writing to MI6 to guarantee that crystal balls won’t be restricted under new spying legislation. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

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Despite these recent examples, this is not a party political issue. The drug law charade was equally embarrassing under Labour, when the then home secretary, Alan Johnson, fired the head of his own drugs advisory committee for pointing out scientific evidence he didn’t want to hear. Previous governments fared no better.

Written by Vaughan Bell for The Guardian 2015