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Sir Paul Beresford’s Private Members’ Bill, the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill would allow the Secretary of State to authorise prison governors to interfere with wireless telegraphy in order either to block mobile phones or detect their use. It was published on 28 June 2012, had a formal second reading without debate, and was referred to a Public Bill Committee. The first session is expected to be on 17 October 2012. The Bill has government and cross party support.

Mobile phones and similar devices in prisons have long been associated with problems such as organised crime, drug supply, bullying and harassment of victims. The previous Government introduced criminal offences of bringing unauthorised electronic communications devices into or out of prisons, and of possessing a mobile phone in prison without authorisation, to add to the existing disciplinary offence of possessing an unauthorised article.

Mobile phone jamming in prisons presents technical and legal challenges, not least ensuring that it does not affect phones outside the prison perimeter. The National Offender Management Service has been trialling the use of equipment, which the Government says have demonstrated that the technology can work, although it is “not a quick, simple or cheap solution.” For security reasons the Government does not publish information about which prisons are involved.

The Bill would enable the authorisation of the use of such equipment rather than requiring its use. No additional funding is being sought. The Explanatory Notes say the Bill will impose no financial obligations on the public sector, and that no full Regulatory Impact Assessment has been produced.

The Bill extends to Scotland as well as England and Wales, and a Legislative Consent Motion has been tabled in the Scottish Parliament.

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