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Prisoners: Mobile Phones

Volume 497: debated on Monday 12 October 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice how many mobile telephones were found in the possession of prisoners in (a) top security and (b) all other prisons in the last 12 months for which figures are available. (287998)

Prisons in England and Wales are asked to send mobile phones and SIM cards they find to a central unit for analysis. In the last 12 months (from July 2008-June 2009), 8,648 mobile phones and SIM cards were analysed. 255 were from the high security estate and 8,393 were from the non-high security estate. These figures include items discovered within prison perimeters and on entry to establishments. We do not keep central records of mobile phones found in the possession of prisoners.

We believe that these figures may understate the actual number of finds, because they do not include items retained by the police for evidential purposes, and because in some instances prisons have not sent items for analysis. NOMS is putting in place new procedures to ensure that we have a more comprehensive picture in future. While the numbers of phones found indicates the scale of the challenge in tackling illicit mobile phones, it is also a reflection of prisons’ increasing success in finding them and better reporting.

NOMS is implementing a strategy to minimise the number of phones entering prisons, and to find or disrupt those that do enter. As part of the strategy, prisons have been provided with technologies to strengthen local security and searching strategies, in line with the recommendations in the Blakey report, “Disrupting the Supply of Illicit Drugs into Prisons”, published in July 2008. This includes the roll out of “BOSS” chairs to all prisons, and the deployment of other detection and disruption technologies, including mobile phone signal blockers.

We have also strengthened the law, through the Offender Management Act 2007 (implemented in April 2008), which makes it a criminal offence with a punishment of up to two years’ imprisonment to bring an unauthorised mobile phone or component part into a prison.