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Mobile Phones in Prison

Volume 647: debated on Tuesday 9 October 2018

There are basically four ways in which we can detect mobile telephones coming into prisons: we can get them at the gate, coming over the wall, in use on the landings and in the cells. We are addressing it in all those ways. We are increasing searching at the gates. We are putting up grilles and netting to stop phones coming over the walls. We are putting dedicated search teams into cells, and we are using equipment to detect phones in use.

I thank the Minister for that helpful reply. He obviously is aware that illegal mobile phones in cells are currently being used for drug trafficking, intimidating witnesses and other criminal activity. Can he make it 100% crystal clear that under no circumstances will he or the Secretary of State ever go down the route of allowing prisoners to have legal mobiles in their cells?

We are absolutely clear that a mobile telephone, and particularly a smartphone, in a prison is a form of weapon. It allows a prisoner to jump the prison walls, effectively; they can transfer money, record videos and intimidate witnesses. We are encouraging prisoners to continue to use regulated landlines in prisons to contact their families. We are investing in in-cell telephony, because keeping family relationships will reduce reoffending by 37%, but a mobile telephone is a weapon, and we will find them and remove them.

I thank the Minister for that answer. The Justice Committee was told at a recent session that prison governors do not have sufficient flexibility to purchase the equipment they need—particularly the right scanning equipment—and that if they had more flexibility over their budgets, they might be able to invest in that equipment or other things that they feel their prison needs. What is the Minister’s response to that?

Thanks to a private Member’s Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), which we have been proud to support, new technology is available that should not force governors to have to come up with a bespoke solution prison by prison, but will allow us nationally to have much better technology to identify these phones, listen to them and ultimately seize them.