Mobile phone signal to be eliminated for prisoners in UK jails

The UK government is investigating technology that can block prisoners from receiving mobile phone signals whilst in jail.

Mobile phone operators have been pressed to develop a system that would prevent any signal from penetrating prison buildings.

Justice minister Sam Gyimah said prison governors have warned illegal phones in jails are a growing problem, adding he expects the ‘responsible’ mobile phone firms to fully cooperate with the government's request.

Nearly 15,000 handsets and Sim cards were recovered in jails in England and Wales in 2015, equivalent to 40 every day, figures released last month have shown.

This compared with 7,400 handsets and Sim cards seized in 2013 and 9,745 in 2014.

Cheap devices like the Long CZ can be easily bought online for less than £30 and are just a few centimetres tall, making them easy to smuggle into prisons without being discovered.

Speaking in the Commons, Labour MP Geraint Davies (Swansea West) warned Mr Gyimah: "There's been reports in Swansea prison of people simply throwing mobile phones over the wall, which provides anonymity for prisoners to indulge in all sorts of criminal activity. What are you doing about this sort of thing?"

Tory frontbencher Mr Gymiah replied: "Every governor I have spoken to in the last six weeks has mentioned the growing problem of illegal mobile phones in prison.

"I believe technology is vital to detect and block these phones and that is why in addition to the range of technologies already deployed across the prison estate we have held a high-level meeting with mobile phone network operators asking them to use their expertise to develop new technological solutions to deny mobile phone signals in prisons.

"As responsible businesses, I expect these operators to fully cooperate."

The owner of a bar in Hove, East Sussex, recently installed an electronic shield, known as a Faraday Cage, in its walls and ceiling in order to prevent mobile phone signals from penetrating the building.

He said he hoped it would encourage punters to converse rather than check their mobile devices.

However, implementing such a system in all of the UK prisons would be an extremely costly project. In addition, the greater range and power achieved by incoming 5G technologies could make it harder than ever to block mobile signals.

Government body Innovate UK announced a £1m funding programme at the end of last year to support businesses in investing in projects that can take advantage of the UK’s future 5G infrastructure. 

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