Chris Middleton reports on how the UK prison service is using sensors to track the illegal use of phones. Justice Secretary David Gauke has announced the installation of new mobile phone detection technology in UK prisons.

According to a statement from the government, the system will allow officers to pinpoint the location of phone signals to a precise prison cell. Staff can also use it to track data over time and identify usage patterns.

The technology works by sending real-time alerts when a mobile device is activated and used. These are displayed on a digital heat map, which shows the strength and location of the signal.

“Illicit use of phones in prisons to co-ordinate crime fuels high levels of violence, as offenders vie for control of the internal market and enforce drug debts,” explained the announcement. “Phones can also be used to terrorise victims and maintain outside criminal networks.”

Following what was described as “a successful six-month trial in one prison”, the detection system is now in use in five across the country. However, the government declined to provide further details of the technology or where it has been installed, for security reasons.

It is known that the programme is one element of a multimillion-pound strategy to reduce violence and drug use and “restore stability to the prison estate”, in the government’s words. Other measures include security scanners and phone-blocking technology.

The Interference with Wireless Telegraphy Bill received Royal Assent in December 2018. The legislation enables prisons to use interference technology to disrupt mobile signals and prevent illegal use of devices by prisoners.

Meanwhile, a financial crime unit targets kingpins operating from inside prisons.

Since January 2018, the government has invested £70 million in prison safety and security, on top of which it spends £14 million a year on stopping criminal gangs from smuggling drugs to prisoners – sometimes via drones.

Gauke said, “As criminals look for new ways to smuggle contraband into prisons, it is vital that we stay one step ahead, and this kind of technology will help prevent them operating from their cells.

“This is vital to ensuring prisons are places of safety and rehabilitation, where offenders can turn their backs on crime for good.”

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