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British prisoners aren't as connected as they were last year - or prison wardens are losing the ability to find contraband mobiles.

The figures come in a written answer to John McDonnell MP, who asked the question of the Secretary of State for Justice. The prison service has only been collecting national figures for the last eight months but the trend is downwards; so either fewer handsets are being smuggled into jail, or the guards are getting worse at finding them.

The only figures we have for last year cover the number of handsets, and SIM cards, analysed by the prison service; but it was assumed that represented a subset of the total number of handsets that were just found, the majority not being worth expensive analysis. Therefore, in April this year the government started counting all the handsets, regardless of whether they warranted further investigation, and it's these figures that we now have.

The numbers themselves are remarkably stable: 675 in December 2009 compared to 633 in November this year. It's tempting to conclude that the assumptions about what proportion of handsets were analysed were wrong, despite the anecdotal evidence to support it.

However, there is a considerable quantity of such evidence, and comparing other months shows the numbers have certainly dropped (in February 2010, for example, 938 phones were analysed, but by April less than 500 were seized). So we think prisoners have fewer mobile phones but don't know for certain, and if they're just getting better at hiding them then we'll probably never find out. ®

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