Prisoners are using mobile phones to plots escapes and deal drugs, while 3,473 handsets were confiscated from inmates last year, according to government sources.
Parliamentary under-secretary for the Ministry of Justice Maria Eagle revealed the figures during questioning in the House of Lords. The figure includes handsets and Sim cards confiscated by guards between October 2006 and September 2007.
Separately, a number of reports by government prison watchdog the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) described the use of mobile phones in prisons as ‘a serious problem’, with the IMB’s annual review of Wandsworth prison describing an ‘apparently limitless supply of mobile phones that drive the drugs trade, bullying and intimidation’.
The report added: ‘Mobile phones are used to facilitate the delivery of drugs to prisoners, continue criminal activities from within, pressurise vulnerable prisoners, contact families of prisoners and staff, plan escapes, bullying, intimidation and a host of other unsavoury activities.’
Since January, 245 phones were seized from prisoners in Wandsworth prison.
Another IMB report into Winchester prison blamed poor detection of handsets on ‘the increasing miniaturisation’ of mobile phones, while a review into Pentonville prison accused members of the public of throwing them over prison walls.
The IMB questioned whether more could be done to identify officers who may be bringing them into prisons, as well as calling for a jamming system to be installed into prisons to render mobile phones useless. Critics have argued that such a tactic would interfere with those living nearby.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said: 'The Prison Service is vigorously tackling the issue of illegal mobile phone use in prisons in a number of ways including searching strategies, the piloting of body orifice security scanners, intelligence-led searching with dogs and the targeted use of mobile phone detectors.'