Anti-smuggling campaigns that work

Zero Tolerance

Zero Tolerance


In 2008 HMP Lowdham Grange was one of Serco’s flagship custodial contracts operating within the UK.

Under the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), the performance levels of prisons are categorised numerically with 4 being the highest level of operation. Lowdham Grange was performing at a consistently high level in all but one of its Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which was preventing a promotion to level 4 operational efficiency status.

The smuggling of contraband including drugs and mobile phones, affects all prisons and poses a serious threat to the safety and wellbeing of all concerned within the establishment.

The only KPI target score preventing the contract from being the first privately run prison in the UK to operate at the highest NOMS performance level was the pass rate in both its Voluntary and Mandatory Drug (VDT & MDT) tests.


The brief given to GDA had a very simple objective. To use effective communication to remove the one obstacle preventing the contract from reaching level 4 operational status.

Reduce drug smuggling into the establishment.


A preliminary study of the target audience revealed a large discrepancy between visitors’ perception of the issues involved in smuggling and the reality.

There was also a mis-match between the media and messages used in existing communication material and those most likely to engage the target audience.

To achieve the brief a key message was identified that graphically illustrated not only how easy it was to be drawn into smuggling but the consequences of doing so.

This took the form of a central brand – ‘Zero Tolerance’ – that tied together a mixed media campaign consisting of:

  • A video graphically highlighting the dangers through a fictitious scenario – Consequences
  • A suite of print and poster material to reinforce the campaign not only within the prison but to convey the messages to outreach groups in the local community
  • Finally, a signage campaign along the route to the prison created pressure on those carrying contraband to abandon the attempt to smuggle before entering the prison


Within 15 months HMP Lowdham Grange achieved the desired level 4 operational status as the MDT & VDT fail rates fell to the required levels.

The campaign also resulted in positive coverage in national news which portrayed the prison, the prison service and Serco as both proactive and innovative in its safer custody strategy and interventions.

The organisations providing the call-to-action for the campaign, FRANK and CrimeStoppers, both reported raised contact activity which led to valuable intelligence for both the police and the prison to help target existing drug organisations.

The campaign has been in continual development since its inception and has been adopted across Serco custodial contracts in the UK and across Australia and New Zealand. Zero Tolerance was also included in subsequent successful custodial bids as a key ‘win-theme’ to showcase Serco innovation in practice.

Click here to view the Consequences video

Click here to view the ITV news special – 1

Click here to view the ITV news special – 2

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