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Prisoners: Mobile Phones

Volume 508: debated on Tuesday 6 April 2010

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice (1) how many prosecutions there have been for offences relating to pornographic or violent images discovered on telephones seized from inmates in prisons in England and Wales in the last 12 months; (324863)

(2) whether his Department has evidence of the transfer of violent or pornographic images from telephone to telephone by inmates in prisons in England and Wales.

The court proceedings database holds information on defendants proceeded against, found guilty and sentenced for criminal offences in England and Wales. The court proceedings database does not hold specific information on offences beyond descriptions provided by the statutes under which prosecutions are brought. Information available centrally on defendants proceeded against does not identify if the defendant is a prisoner. While data are extracted from mobile phones by a central unit, action taken as a result of that data is a matter for individual establishments and their partners. This is not held centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

David Blakey’s report and the Government response were published on 7 July 2008. The report emphasised the difficulties inherent in reducing contraband supply in prisons, and highlighted the link between drug supply and mobile phone availability in prisons.

Good progress has been made in implementing Blakey’s recommendations and the Government are committed to reducing the number of mobile phones in prisons and addressing the risks that mobile phones present both to prison security and to the safety of the public. We have implemented a strategy to minimise the number of mobile phones entering prisons, to find phones that do get in and to disrupt mobile phones that cannot be found.

As part of this we have already strengthened the law through the Offender Management Act 2007, which made it an offence with a penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment to bring a mobile phone or component into a prison. We are also taking forward legislation to criminalise the possession of devices including mobile telephones within a prison without authorisation.

Due to the covert nature of mobile phone use in prisons, the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) is not able to estimate the number of mobile phones or component parts in circulation. NOMS is also unable to assess their usage.

Prisons in England and Wales are instructed to send mobile phones and SIM cards found to a central unit and the data extracted from these mobile phones are then shared with establishments so that appropriate action can be taken locally. A record of these local actions is not held centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.