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Beat the Boss: UK prisons’ mobile phone epidemic

A mobile phone explicitly designed for illegal smuggling into prisons is being sold by online retailer Amazon. Amazon is selling a phone called “Beat the Boss” – designed to outwit the “Boss” chair, or body orifice security scanner, used by prisons when admitting a prisoner. This new phone technology is the latest development in the government’s battle with prisoners to control mobile phone use.

In 2015, a prisoner received a life sentence for arranging the import of machine guns with a hidden mobile phone and there is a steady drip of prisoners flaunting access to mobile phones by posting to social media from inside prison. ITV News understands the government wants to hear from mobile phone companies what measures they will voluntarily take to clamp down on prisoners getting mobile phone signal in prison. If the mobile phone companies aren’t able to devise their own prevention tactics, it is likely the government will take steps to jam the mobile phone service around prisons.

The “beat the boss” phones are the latest in a new form of metal-free plastic phones, the size of just a lipstick but shaped to make them easy to hide inside a prisoner’s body without detection. At the start of a sentence, inmates have to be scanned on the Boss chair to establish if they are trying to smuggle anything into prison hidden around their bodies. In recent years, mobile phones have made it inside prisons and the issue now ranks as one of the most serious challenges for the prison estate.

According to the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), in 2013 7,451 mobile phones were seized in prisons across the UK. In 2014, this had risen again to 9,745 and officials expect the numbers to go up again when the next set of figures for 2015 are published. In 2013, two prisoners Ryan MacDonald and Stevie McCullen, used a hidden mobile phone to plan their escape from their prison van when being escorted to court for a hearing.

With the use of a hidden phone from inside the vehicle, they were able to coordinate with friends and successfully pulled off a violent raid on their van. In 2014, they were subsequently sentenced to for 20 years in prison. In 2009, a prisoner was sentenced to 18 years for organising a large quantity of cocaine using a mobile phone from his prison cell.

In 2006, a mobile phone was used to organise the killing of a gang leader. If prison management suspects prisoners of possessing a mobile phone they may apply to court for an order to compel a mobile phone operator to shut down a phone number. However, government and prison officials feel these measures are time consuming, expensive and may not deal with prisoners who have many different SIM cards.

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