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London - Prisoners are being given acupuncture and mindfulness classes to help them get to sleep.

Inmates are using the practices to nod off in their cells – making them less likely to rely on drugs at night.

Bosses at HMP Dovegate, a Category B jail run by private firm Serco, turned to alternative therapies after a rise in numbers of convicts using the ‘zombie drug’ spice.

Watchdogs praised the ‘sleep hygiene’ schemes at the jail near Uttoxeter in Staffordshire for helping wean the criminals off smuggled narcotics.

However, the revelations will raise eyebrows at a time when there are fears that prisons are becoming too cushy.

A Whitehall source said: ‘The public will be concerned if they think HMP Dovegate is more like a health retreat and less like a prison.’

Tory MP Philip Hollobone said: ‘You couldn’t make it up. Prisons should be a place of punishment and, ultimately, rehabilitation. It is not meant to be a relaxing holiday retreat and spa.’

A report by the prison’s independent monitoring board said acupuncture and mindfulness classes, paid in part by the taxpayer, assisted in stopping inmates ‘reaching for illicit substances’. Derived from ancient Chinese medicine, acupuncture involves fine needles being inserted at certain sites in the body for therapeutic or preventative purposes. The needles are understood to stimulate sensory nerves under the skin and in the muscles.

This results in the body producing natural substances such as pain-relieving endorphins. The practice is said to help combat insomnia and addiction. Another initiative launched in the prison is the introduction of so-called ‘sleep hygiene’ courses, which include tips on how the 1,000-plus male inmates can get a good night’s rest.

There are also mindfulness classes, which aim to teach inmates how to meditate. By improving their mental health, prison chiefs hope the convicts will avoid returning to a life of crime.

The monitoring board’s report said: ‘The board welcomes the willingness of the integrated substance misuse team to take initiatives such as the provision of sleep hygiene groups to help prisoners avoid reaching for illicit substances when sleepless.’

It added that the classes were ‘important’ because, since a smoking ban was introduced in July, more inmates had been resorting to drugs such as spice when they could not fall asleep.