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Prisons: Mobile Phones

Volume 715: debated on Monday 14 December 2009

Questions

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many (a) mobile phones, and (b) component parts of mobile phones, were seized from inmates in Her Majesty's prisons in each year since 1997. [HL535]

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many (a) mobile phones, and (b) component parts of mobile phones, were seized from inmates in Her Majesty's high security prisons in each year since 1997. [HL536]

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many (a) mobile phones, and (b) component parts of mobile phones, were seized from prisoners convicted of terrorism offences in each year since 1997. [HL537]

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many mobile phones or component parts of mobile phones they estimate to have been in circulation in Her Majesty's prisons in each year since 1997. [HL538]

Prisons in England and Wales are asked to send mobile phones and SIM cards they find to a central unit for analysis. The following table shows the number of mobile phones and SIM cards analysed for all prisons, including high security prisons, since September 2005, when records began. Numbers of mobile phones and SIM cards were not recorded separately until January 2008.

The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) does not hold disaggregated information on phones seized from prisoners or information on offence category. The majority of phones and component parts seized are not attributable to individual prisoners.

The number of mobile phones and SIM cards analysed for all prisons, including high security prisons in England and Wales, since September 2005.

All prisons1

High Security Prisons

Mobile Phones

SIM cards

Mobile Phones

SIM cards

2005 (Sep-Dec)

469

35

2006

2,272

294

2007

4,014

396

2008

3,910

4,189

139

249

1This includes the figure for high security prisons.

The figures here have been drawn from administrative data systems. Although care is taken when processing data, the detail collected is subject to the inaccuracies inherent in any large scale recording system. The data are not subject to audit.

The figures understate the actual number of finds, because they do not include items retained by the police for evidential purposes and because there has historically been some underreporting. There are phones sent to the central location which are not analysed, and these are not included in these figures. NOMS is putting in place new procedures to improve these statistics.

Tackling mobile phones in prison presents substantial and increasing technological challenges; and while the numbers of phones found clearly indicates the scale of the challenge, it is also a reflection of prisons' increasing success in finding them and better reporting. Due to the covert nature of mobile phone use in prisons, we are not able to estimate the number of mobile phones or component parts in circulation.

NOMS has implemented a strategy to minimise the number of phones entering prisons, and to find or disrupt those that do enter. Prisons have been provided with technologies to strengthen local security and searching strategies, including bodily orifice security scanner chairs, and we are trialling mobile phone signal blocking, in line with the recommendations in the Blakey report, Disrupting the Supply of Illicit Drugs into Prisons.

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.