Nearly 15,000 mobile phones and SIM cards were recovered in jails last year, with recent high profile cases linking behind-bars criminality with drug dealing and smuggling guns into the UK.
But now police and prison officers will have new powers to cut off the illegally-held mobiles used by inmates to continue criminal activities after being locked up.
The new measures, introduced through the Serious Crime Act, mean prison governors will no longer have to physically find illegally-held mobiles in jails or use expensive mobile phone blocking technology to stop their use.
Prison staff or the police will instead be able to cut off the phones remotely just by producing evidence that a given mobile number is being used illicitly.
Once a number is identified, they will be able to apply to the courts for a Telecommunications Restriction Order (TRO). This will mean mobile networks can be instructed to blacklist the phone remotely, making it completely unusable.
Recent examples of criminals using phones in prison include an offender using a concealed mobile to plot his escape after being jailed for gun crimes. The attempt was foiled by police and the prisoner was sentenced to an additional 5 and a half years in prison.
Security Minister Ben Wallace said:
Criminals are locked up to protect communities from their actions – so it is totally unacceptable for them to continue their life of crime behind bars.
Telecommunications Restriction Orders will give us the power to disconnect the phones prisoners use to continue orchestrating serious crimes while in jail.
This government will act wherever necessary to cut crime and keep our communities safe – and to restore the public trust that is so vital to our justice system.
Prisons in England and Wales already use a number of covert techniques to identify which devices are being used within an institution. This information will then be supplied to police and law enforcement agencies so an application for a TRO can be made.
Justice Secretary Elizabeth Truss said:
We are determined to do all we can to prevent prisoners having access to mobile phones.
We are stepping up measures to find and block them and empowering prison officers to take action. I am determined to make sure our prisons are safe and places of rehabilitation.
The TROs will support the government’s commitment to drive down crime committed by criminals working on the inside and provide a speedier response to what has become an increasing threat within our prisons. In comparison to other techniques, including mobile phone blocking technology, TROs can be implemented without the need to physically obtain a handset before action can be taken.
The new powers will operate within the Serious Crime Act 2015 and provide mobile network operators with the legal framework to ensure unauthorised mobile phones are put beyond the reach of criminals.
They will be overseen by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner who will examine the effectiveness of TROs by looking at a variety of indicators, including the number issued and the number of phones disconnected.