Mobile phone jamming technology set for Scotland’s prisons
MOBILE phone blockers, costing up to £1 million per prison, are being planned to stop inmates continuing to run criminal operations from behind bars.
The Scottish Parliament’s justice committee will today discuss giving prison chiefs the power to install the technology.
Smuggled phones and sim cards have been a problem for the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) and police for years.
They are used by crime gang bosses to orchestrate major deals, such as large-scale drugs smuggling, from prison.
Phones are also a frequent feature of bullying in jails, with prisoners ordered to look after handsets for fellow inmates and running the risk of getting in trouble on other people’s behalf.
Prison chiefs have worked hard to seize smuggled phones, with intelligence-led raids, increased police surveillance and the rolling out of Prison Watch, where neighbours are encouraged to report unusual activity.
Despite this, 959 mobile phone handsets and 800 components were confiscated in 2011, with many more believed to have avoided detection.
The blockers will stop the signal getting through and also identify the person, handset or location it was coming from.
In his report to the justice committee, Colin McConnell, chief executive of the SPS, wrote: “Despite [Prison Watch] and other measures we deploy, illicit mobile phones enter our prisons. This legislation will give us the ability to block signals and effectively stop prisoners from using them, and will mean that mobile phones will no longer be effective currency in prison.”
Phone blocking would be unlikely to be used at all prisons. In particular, there would be no need for it in the open estate, where people could simply go outside to make the call. Prison chiefs hope technology can be purchased at below the £1m quoted in the report.
Any move to limit phone access was welcomed by police.
Detective Chief Superintendent Stephen Whitelock, head of intelligence group at Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement, said: “We have established a national prison intelligence unit which involves close collaboration with the SPS and the eight police forces, and one of the key strands of work is to tackle the use of mobile phones in prison.”
However, the Mobile Broadband Group, which represents providers, has raised concerns. “The interference equipment that will be allowed within prisons as a result of this legislation has the potential to cause harmful interference to the customers of the mobile operators legitimately using their mobile devices in the vicinity,” it said.
Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont added: “Everyone agrees that prisoners should not be able to access mobile phones or the internet outwith times monitored and agreed by the Scottish Prison Service. But the way to do this is to clamp down on smuggling.
“If harder action was taken on that front, there would be no need to threaten the mobile and wireless coverage received by decent, paying customers who happen to live near a prison.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The SPS have asked for additional powers to block mobile signals to be extended to Scotland, and we are fully behind them.”
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