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One cellphone for every ten lags in UK prisons

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The Prisons service discovered 8,648 mobile phones in prisons in the last 12 months, forcing prisoners to share one between ten, though it also admitted there could be many more.

Prisoners aren't supposed to have mobile phones at all, but stopping them getting into the prisons isn't easy. In response to a parliamentary question the Minister of State, Maria Eagle, admitted that in the 12 months prior to July this year 255 phones were discovered at high-security prisons, while gaols with lower security reported finding 8,393.

Those figures include phones confiscated from visitors, or spotted sailing over walls in padded boxes (the two more-common entry methods for contraband), but don't include those that prisons didn't bother sending for central analysis or were retained by police pending investigation.

Modern phones can be slipped into the body relatively easily, making possession hard to prove even if the phone is successfully detected. When a phone, or other contraband, is detected inside the body, prisoners are placed into confinement while the authorities await the inevitable - which can take several days.

In the USA the authorities now have the right to jam mobile phone use in prisons, ending a long campaign from companies and prison authorities, and it's likely that such a technical solution will come to the UK too. CellAntenna, one of the companies most vocal in proposing jamming solutions, tells us it is already running trials at one European prison and has been speaking to the UK prison service for some years.

Smuggled phones are worth between £250 and £500, according to July's Blakey Review (pdf), which makes preventing smuggling almost impossible. The Blakey Review was looking mainly at drugs in prisons, but also recommends that "mobile phone blocking" is a sensible option if it can be done cheaply enough. ®

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