Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mobile Phones

The prison system is awash with mobile phones. In the last year, 7329 phones or SIM were discovered. Extrapolate from those found to those remaining and it can be appreciated that a serious potential problem exists.

When I say "problem", the law and order lobby may instinctively assume I am referring to the crimes allegedly committed through access to mobiles by prisoners. Such is the belief that mobiles are a nexus of wickedness that a new law has been quickly shepherded through Parliament allowing prisons to install blocking technology.

What I predict as the "problem", though is the fact that British Telecom and the Prison Service must be losing a fortune from their captive customers is so many of them are exploring the free-market and opting for mobiles over the official prison payphones. And that isn't a problem for me, prisoners, or anyone - except BT. At 9p a minute to call ones family through the payphones, the delights of mobile call-plans are hard to resist.

But to return to the essence of this post - the new blocking technology, based on arguments that mobiles are used to commit crime.

If you are to take up a chunk of Parliamentary time and effort, if you are to explore the wilder reaches of technological development, and if you are going to pressure Governors to festoon their prisons with these systems then you would think that the Ministry of Justice or the Prison Service would be able to substantiate the scare stories.

Wouldn't you? Then you would be wrong, wrong, wrong. Having lobbied for this law to install jamming technology, when put on the spot to say just how many crimes have been committed using mobiles the official response is.... "we don't know and don't intend trying to find out".

This, dear reader, is how daft laws become born and how ignorant policy makers bumble through their paltry existence. It's embarrassing.

But not as embarrassing as the fact that, in passing this Bill through Parliament, not a single legislator thought to ask the question - how much crime is committed with prison mobiles, and are we all wasting time and money on this law?


42 comments:

  1. Ben,

    I do agree entirely regarding the extortionate BT rates. But, if we agreed that prison is a resource of last resort (used only for those whose contact with the general public requires restriction) does the use of the telephone system also not apply? At least to a degree?

    I wouldn't like a law passed based on hearsay or guestimates. I'd like a proper investigation and review carried out before any further course of action were taken.

    Until then, how do we know that crimes are not* being committed using mobile phones?

    *My guestimate would be that some crimes are committed using mobile phones, but it's unlikely that any of those crimes could not be committed by an outside accomplice with relative ease, rendering the ban futile in itself.

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    1. Gary, don't we operate a Justice system based on "innocent until proven guilty"?

      I know what I used my mobile for - keeping in touch with my family and friends, not setting up hits on my witnesses of victims.

      Unless the evidence of criminality exists, it should not be cited as a reason.

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    2. That wouldn't really apply to this argument. The prisoners concerned have been found guilty, and their freedoms, including the freedom to own and use a mobile phone, are restricted as part of their punishment.

      Whether these restrictions are right, fair or even practical are, of course, open for debate. It does seem to me that there are much better ways to approach this issue. That much is evident from the comments, which have mostly been pretty insightful.

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    3. Beg to disagree, the punishment is loss of liberty - not liberties. important distinction.

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    4. We're getting into semantics a little bit. The loss of liberty will also bring with it the loss of all sorts of other liberties as part and parcel of the sentence. That currently includes mobile phones. But like I've said, whether that's right/practical/reasonable is very debatable.

      Anyways, Ben. I wish you a very Merry Christmas and hope you enjoy your first one on the outside. You didn't happen to get a nice new shiny, and now 100% legal mobile from Santa, did you?! :)

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    5. Anyone who thinks the difference between "loss of liberty" ans "loss of liberties" is semantics has clearly never lost either and has little appreciation of them.

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    6. Jumping to conclusions there Ben. Often, it's best to assume that not even the obvious is correct...

      In the context of the discussion, it was bordering on semantics. Like I said, loss of liberty will come with loss of numerous liberties as part and parcel of the punishment, whether the loss of aforementioned liberties is incidental or not. After all, are prisoners allowed to possess mobile phones?

      But I'm not going to argue this point any further. It's not really key to the discussion at hand. Which has been interesting and enlightening.

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  2. If permitted telephones are only usable during out-of-cell periods and calls that prisoners make may be monitored, I think it rather optimistic to suppose that personal mobile phones will be tolerated. Without any supervision I might be complaining to family about a named prison officer, placing bets on dogs or even coordinating an escape plan in realtime. Blocking, I'm sorry to observe, seems pretty much a certainty given the current attitudes of a vocal minority who think that prisoners suffer insufficient grief. Blocking represents an honest prohibition of unauthorised calls and is, to my mind, preferable to clandestine eavesdropping on calls from mobiles.

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  3. One possible solution would be for prisons to issue mobiles to those that want to hire them and they connect via the prison "router" to the outside world. Then standard blocking technology used to make normal mobile redundant. They can then listen in if they want to, plus prisoners don't have to run the gauntlet of trying to use the payphone in association time. I wonder how many crimes have been committed by prisoners trying to use the payphone or ending up in a conflict of some sort...

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  4. i would suggest the model i saw described in the past, worked thus..

    a phone in every cell, which can make calls to pre-approved numbers (very short approval process, prison rings number, confirms ID and that they are happy to receive calls from the prisoner). Calls charged on a plan, commensurate with those on the outside (eg, evenings and weekends free for about £15/pcm)

    All calls are recorded and stored, with exception of those to solicitor/council (very easy to do these days), a random selection are listened to, and may be used as evidence.

    Prisoners can easily keep in contact with friends and family, it is almost impossible to use system for intimidation, calls remain as evidence. Possession of an illegal mobile would then be a serious offence.


    Sam

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  5. Pure fantasy to think that the present situation regarding mobile phones will continue. Smuggling them in is impossible to stop, therefore jamming systems are a certainty and well justified on security and effectiveness grounds. Of course there is no way of knowing how much nefarious use is made of smuggled mobiles, but there's plenty of anecdotal evidence. Seeing that communication technology is essential in committing most crime, it's a reasonably safe bet that they would be used for the same purpose from inside prison. The issue of cost and access to legitimate telephone systems is another issue entirely and it's likely that more prisons will install in-cell systems.

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  6. Are the payphone calls recorded, then?

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    1. Yes, except " privileged number " calls, such as to solicitors, criminal cases review commission, ombudsman, MP constituency offices etc...
      Inner vision

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    2. Digitally recorder and retained for. 90 days; then overwritten unless specific calls are retained following due authorisation for either intelligence or evidential purposes.
      A random percentage of calls are monitored, some in real time, some at a later date.
      In some circumstances directed surveillance can be authorised that would allow all calls or all calls to a certain number made by a selected prisoner to be monitored.
      Some Cat A prisoners , and all exceptional risk Cat A prisoners, have all non-privileged calls monitored.
      Inner vision

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  7. The issues that prisoners have with the current access to payphones is cost and availability. Mobile phones obviously surmount these limitations.

    Any system which can legitimately address these issues should be embraced, although I note that it is the private sector which has led the way.

    There are subtleties to the debate that are often overlooked. Not all prisons, or prisoners, are the same. High Security and Open prisons span the range and it is ridiculous that prisoners who have access to mobiles whilst working outside all day from Open prison are not allowed mobiles whilst inside the perimeter.

    As no extra funding is being provided for the new blocking tech, I assume the High Security Estate will install it but other prisons on a more needs-driven basis.

    The technology is a "capture" system, which draws in all mobile signals in range and then permits specified calls through. Coupled with this will be short-range jammers.

    Oddly, perhaps, this tech is just what is needed to allow prisoners to have mobiles programmed to call certain numbers only. Bet its never used that way though!

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    1. Ah right, I wasn't sure what technology existed but did think there was possibly some system that works similar to the internet, in which every phone has it's own unique IP address and therefore can be controlled via wireless router and ported onto the phone system.

      My own view relates to my own experience of trying to use the public phone whilst banged up which was no fun and potentially a flashpoint. usual routine was literally deciding on foregoing food so you can get in front of a queue that could be a wing deep, or having your food and being at the back stressing if the phone will still working by the time you get to use it..

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    2. You mention the possibility of allowing calls to certain numbers only. As I understand it, there are phones that will do that themselves, that work on a regular calling plan on the regular network, with no specialised hardware besides the phone itself. If free access to a restricted set of numbers is acceptable to the prison service, it seems like allowing that type of phone would be a simpler and cheaper way to go about it, and it would still serve to cut down on the need for fully-functional phones by people who just want to keep in touch with family and friends.
      Are they not common or available in Britain*? not considered sufficiently secure? too expensive/too few numbers/otherwise impractical for the prisoners? more expensive or difficult for the prison than installing a call-catching system, for some reason I've missed?

      *This wouldn't surprise me, as they seem to have largely disappeared in Canada, though I think they're still a thing in the States.

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    3. The technical stuff is all possible, but we are looking at the subject solely from the viewpoint of liberalising and humanising the prison experience. There is that overbearing presence characterised as 'Daily Mail' to be reckoned with. While I myself feel sure that many prisoners would be better and happier for having greater access to telephones at times of their own choosing, I reckon that some people would see it as giving them back too much freedom and thus undoing the punishment that prison is meant to be. If you let a prisoner out into a large field, he might stand still. Give him free communication and he will run all over the place.

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  8. 'In the last year, 7329 phones or SIM were discovered'

    The figures above could be construed, as a determined desire by those banged-up to continue their criminal enterprise whilst in prison.

    A far more likely interpretation would be, that the desire to keep in/not lose contact with those that matter, is far stronger than the threat of (any) sanctions.

    The sooner the private estates example of phones in cells is followed, the better.

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    1. In cell telephony, and the monitoring system is provided by BT, uses the same monitoring and back up systems , and costs as much to use as normal prison pin phones .. Their big advantage is that they let prisoners determine when they call home etc, rather than only allowing them to do so on association times etc, so they do provide some benefits.
      Even though its not been established how great the problem is, there's some evidence to support the argument that illicit mobile phones are used to commit further offences by prisoners ( not counting the fact that their possession is a criminal offence) but I suspect that the main use of them is to keep in touch with family and friends because BT costs are so prohibitive ( incidentally HMPS doesn't get much of the profit from them and has to pay 2000 pounds for each one that's installed).
      A better option than blockers would be to allow prisoners to possess simple mobiles ( no Internet access therefore no Facebook etc) which would be sealed units and programmed as per the current call enabling systems used in prison. Even though this would preclude monitoring its fairly irrelevant because if any prisoner was going to discuss an escape plan or further crimes or threaten victims etc he/she wouldn't be daft enough to do so on a pin phone anyway, they'd use a mobile!!!
      Of course, some prisoners would be excluded from this scheme such as Cat As etc, but its worth a try....
      Inner vision

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  9. represented someone once charged with conspiracy by use of mobile. Bloody serious offence mind you. Unfortunately, evidence overwhelming.

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  10. Free use of mobile phones in prison does cause some very serious problems. Murders have been committed, drug shipments have been arranged, threats of serious violence have been made,......... The list continues and therefore a control measure is an absolute must. There are lots of other channels available to get phone calls that promote positives.

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  11. When I was in jail for 6 years I was terrified to have a phone I knew girls who did but the consequences for us were SERIOUS and we lost ALL privileges... I was in a dorm and my friends had a phone, ond was a jamaican national and it was the main way to communicate with her young son in Jamaica as she could simply not afford credit on the pin phones to call him however with a mobile people could purchase call cards to enable her to make more regular calls to him... When we were being searched and spun every day for a few weeks whilst officers tried to find the phone she became so scared of the consequences she absconded and was on the run for a year until she was returned to custody... I have heard men get caught with phones it's not a big deal...

    Hi Ben your story and blog is new to me I stumbled upon it... I will try to read, it seem interesting to me! I am
    Studying at uni for a degree too and hope to go on to masters and doctorate level!! I started attending uni on day release from prison but the officers HATED that I went and it got so difficult for me to get out through reception due to their malice I had to cease my studies, I have been out 5 years now and finally getting my self together, I hope you are doing well, even after 6 years I was in terrible shock at being free and even now it's some days difficult...I hope to write a book telling how it was, not all days were bad.. I have good memories too and funny ones...
    Best wishes
    Jadine

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    1. Best wishes with your studies and well done

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  14. Just popping by. Merry Christmas, Ben (and Ed).

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  15. The issue as we leave it then is that there are perfectly acceptable technical means to allow prisioners greater communications with their families without undermining security.

    It won't happen though.

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  16. Merry Christmas to you Ben and the Ed, let this be the first of many on the outside!!!!!!!!

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  17. A secure prison cell phone solutuon is available that addresses the very legitmate security and forensic concerns of prison administrators, while offering enhanced access and privacy (not secrecy) to detainees. It is called meshDETECT. There is no internet access on the cell phones and usage can be restricted to certain phone numbers and certain times of the day.

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  18. There can be many solutions to prison cell phones such as no internet access, monitoring calls and keeping your eye on technology how mobiles can be used for criminal activities in prison.

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  21. Every person should be aware of this. Mobile phone can be a tool for any criminal activities.
    E_cell

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  24. This is a real problem, now we cant solve the problem of the access however when it comes to the cost we can! I'd bet if they were honest they would know deep down, that in fact prisoners are more likely to have mobiles as its cheaper by far than the incredibly over inflated prices they charge for calls, and its not in fact to do with committing any more crimes or anything of the sort. With people having trouble to make ends meet more and more, and the desperate need to stay in touch with a loved one, a mobile may well be the only viable way. This is exactly why prison phone was created, so prisoners can have reasonable calling rates whilst the prisoner is still abiding by the prison rules. Our service works with the existing PINS system currently used in all uk prisons and fully complies with the psi49/2011 communications compact, we have of course come across those who dislike us putting all prisoners in the " shouldn't be allowed to use the phone fullstop" category . There are thousands of desperate families out there, barely able to eat, yet they send in money for a call from their loved one, without this call its been proven that many prisoners would be driven to self harm and much worse. Prisoners NEED contact with family and friends , the whole system needs to be looked at in a new way, a way in which prisoners aren't looked down on as rule breakers or exploited as they are a "captive" customer base that can be charged whatever the provider wishes leaving them victim to over inflated prices . just my thoughts...... Claire from prison phone limited.

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