Scotland politics

Mobile phone signals in prison could be blocked in legal move

prison cell
Image caption The UK and Scottish governments want illegal activity in prisons to stop

MSPs are set to pass a new law which could result in the blocking of mobile phone signals inside Scotland's jails.

The legislation will enable prison governors to switch off signals in order to prevent inmates from carrying out illegal activities while inside.

The new measure is contained within a Westminster private members' bill sponsored by Conservative MP Sir Paul Beresford.

The Scottish government is supporting the UK-wide move.

However, the Scottish Parliament's justice committee wants assurances public safeguards would be put in place.

Powers in the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill include;

  • allowing prison governors to use a jamming device to prevent prisoners using mobile phones
  • safeguards to ensure blocking mobile phone signals would not affect the public or would breach data protection or human rights law
  • and the retention and disclosure of information obtained

According to Scottish government statistics, 959 mobile phone handsets and more than 800 component parts were found in Scottish prisons in 2011.

It is claimed handsets are often used to harass victims, organise gangs and deal drugs from the inside.

The UK government has engaged with the Scottish Prison Service, Northern Ireland Prison Service, mobile phone operators and Ofcom throughout the development of the legislation.

Assurances wanted

Community Safety Minister Roseanna Cunningham gave evidence to Holyrood's Justice Committee on the proposals and has recommended the Scottish Parliament give consent to the new powers.

She said: "It is a priority for the Scottish government to tackle serious and organised crime and we are committed to limiting the extent to which prisoners can maintain their criminal lifestyle from within our prisons. The measures in the bill will provide an additional tool to do this."

However, MSPs on the justice committee said they wanted assurances that safeguards for the public would be put in place so that those living near to a prison would not have their mobile phone signal blocked or have their data stored accidentally by the authorities.

Holyrood will vote on the UK proposals next week.

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