The prisons are littered with cell phones so that inmates can live unhampered by locked doors and barbed wire. Why is not technology used to stop it?
Thousands of cell phones are confiscated each year in British prisons, and many more – trafficked or thrown over the wall – will go undetected.
They are a valuable illegal resource – costing between £ 400 and £ 1,000 only to borrow.
In 2013, the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) seized 7,451 mobile phones and SIM cards in prisons in England and Wales.
With them, inmates had “ordered murder, planned escape plans, imported automatic firearms and ordered drug imports,” NOMS said. “The problem is widespread.”
Machine guns were smuggled to Britain by a prisoner who organized the crime by phone from his cell. Judge David Farrell QC called the “completely inadequate” prison security, which made the crime a “scandal”.
The inmates have organized a cocaine ring, ordered the murder of a teenager as part of a feud, and organized the killing of a gang leader – all from their jail cells.
The mother of an inmate in HMP Northumberland claims “the place is full of cell phones”.
“There are people throwing cell phones over the fences, and then there are prisoners who have access to the grounds to get them in,” she says. Glyn Travis of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) says jail is anything but unique.
“Drugs and cell phones are thrown into prisons,” with the drones “completely undermining the external security that protects the public,” he says.
Sodexo, operator of HMP Northumberland, said: “Employees have worked hard to prevent illegal items from being jailed through a series of technical and intelligence measures.”
But the fact that so many phones go to jails despite security precautions partly explains how difficult it is to find and remove them.
The obvious solution, the POA says, is to disable it.
Cell phone jammer or grippers that block signals or divert them from their intended destination are readily available.
Four ways to interrupt communication Block / Block: A signal is sent to prevent the handset from receiving the signal from its base station. All phones and SIM cards within Jammer’s reach will be blocked, including those belonging to the prison staff. The method is cheap and mostly effective. Disorders caused outside the prison can be avoided with care, but this can increase costs.
Grabbing: Phones are attracted to a fake network. It is selective – employees or phones of local residents can be put on an unaffected “white list”. Success can be quantified – phones and their owners can be identified. Illegal phones can be monitored and not blocked. It is more expensive than ceiling jam.
Business Interruption: The 2015 Heavy Criminal Law Act empowered mobile operators to separate illegal phones. So far, the relevant regulations have not been adopted. Separate phones and SIM cards can be exchanged and mobile operators may not be willing to cooperate.
Stop and search: Visitors and employees can be searched for illegal phones. Cells and inmates can be searched to find those who have been overlooked. Sniffer dogs can be trained to find mobile phones. Some phones are removed from detection and new ones can be used to replace the confiscated ones
In the above four modes, using a jammer to block the communication signal is the most effective method: it is fast, safe, and saves money.