back to article UK Ministry of Justice brags about new digital forensics unit to thwart tech-savvy jailbirds

The UK Ministry of Justice is setting up a digital forensics lab to probe mobile phones seized from prisoners. The department claims that with increased security, more contraband has been snatched, and inmates are "using advanced technology to access the dark web, encrypt their messages and use social media in jail". The lab …

  1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme


    One might think that a bit difficult to get in and out of your "prison luggage"

    1. MonkeyBob

      Re: smartphones?

      There are phones that are designed/not designed honest gov to be easy to get in and out of "prison luggage", sometimes 2 or 3 at a time. Maybe more if you have enough space.

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: smartphones?

        Appropriate branding, as well.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: smartphones?

      dual sim android smartphones are as small as 43mm x 86mm x 9mm

      if you just need basic phone calls and text messaging there are non-smart phones down to 21mm x 47mm x 12mm

    3. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: smartphones?

      An Apple watch can have its own phone connection these days. I guess you could get smaller than that. If you search for things like "GSM smart pen", you can get an idea of what you can hide a phone inside.

    4. Lotaresco Silver badge

      Re: smartphones?

      Hmm, the prison residents seem to be well catered for, phones that are small enough to poke to sunshine-free areas that feature a voice changer so that it's possible to continue harassing those witnesses.

  2. MonkeyBob

    New prosions

    "An additional £2.5bn is being spent on increasing prison capacity by an extra 10,000 places and to "create modern, efficient jails that rehabilitate offenders, reduce reoffending..."

    I wonder how much of the £250,000 per cell goes on building the prisons with all the enhanced security requirements and how much is spent on training and courses to help with rehabilitation. I doubt there will be much change left over once the new tenants start moving in.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: New prosions

      The £100M investment seems to be mostly aspirational right now, and with an election in a month and a half it's not worth reading anything more into this.

  3. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    Easy solutions

    Don't provide mains sockets in cells then they can't charge their phones.

    Paint the outside of old prisons with zinc paint to make it conductive enough to be a Faraday Cage and prevent signals leaking out.

    Build new prisons with metal outer cladding for the same reason.

    Install sniffers in all prisons to rapidly identify the source of local RF signals.

    Install fake nodes to prevent connection to cell towers.

    Don't write the password to the Governer's wifi on the toilet wall ...

    Just a few potential options ...

    1. Danny 2 Silver badge

      Re: Easy solutions

      I downvoted you because you are talking off the top of your head and spraying solutions you haven't thought through. I've posted about this here before and the simplest, cheapest solution is to provide monitored landlines to prisoners at a standard rate.

      A handful of high powered gangsters use smuggled mobile phones to run criminal empires. Like, in the whole of the UK, maybe twenty tops. Most prisoners want the use of a phone to chat with their partners and children because it is cheaper than using the prison phones. That helps keep them sane, helps them rehabilitate and stop offending, and keeps their family together.

      If you give every low level risk prisoner access to cheap monitored phone calls then there would be lesser demand for smuggled phones, and the more dangerous prisoners would have less access to them.

      The current situation is if an imprisoned shoplifter or whatever wants to call their spouse, they pay through the nose, and the spouse has to sit through a long warning that the call is coming from a prison. The current call charges would me blanche, plus having to talk about my most personal stuff in front of other crims, I just wouldn't.

      Give them all, except the worst of the worst, a 2G phone with a limited and pre-agreed set of numbers, where each call is recorded. Cheapest and best solution.

      [Edit: If a prisoner is cooperating and working then they earn about £10 a week. One short phone call costs them about £10. Hence smuggling.]

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Easy solutions

        Speaking from experience, receiving not making, although I agree with your sentiments some of this isn't true.

        There isn't a a long warning, the call is just like a normal call coming in, and although I don't know the exact pricing I'm sure it's not excessive and there are plenty of ways to reduce the cost (a quick google shows that).

        I do agree that being able to make phone calls and stay in touch wit family is an essential thing for prisoners mental health.

        1. Danny 2 Silver badge

          Re: Easy solutions

          I upvoted you for your testimony, but I assume you are in a different legal constituency. Or maybe I'm just out of date. I did prisoner support about a twelve years ago, and stopped when police used that as an excuse to raid and terrify my parents. Where I live, there is a long, pre-recorded warning, or at least there was 12 years ago. Inmates were paying 50p a minute plus the intro.

          If that has changed for the better then thank you for telling me about it, but please link to it too.

          I'm not doubting you are correct and am I wrong, but before I admit I am wrong then I'd like a credible link which you haven't supplied so far..

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Easy solutions

            I'm speaking of prisons in the UK.

            I couldn't find an official site that stated how much the rates are but did find this.

            Apologies for Daily Express article;


            "...Currently, prisoners using payphones pay around 8.4p per minute to call a landline and 18.4p to call a mobile..."

            I can assure you in this case the prisoner makes a lot of calls to maintain relationships, although they do depend on outside assistance for money as well as money earned inside. For prisoners without support it must be more difficult.

            1. Danny 2 Silver badge

              Re: Easy solutions

              I'm glad things have improved then. Back then there was a long pre-recorded introduction and higher charges. I donated stamps to some of the prisoners so they could contact me without cost but they were seized by the prison as "prison currency". I've never been inside but I'm pretty sure prison currency is drugs, not stamps.

              The cases we tried to help were all held beyond their tariff, in one case for more than a decade because he didn't cooperate in prison.

              I met the girlfriend of one prisoner who'd been gaoled for assaulting her four years earlier. He had served his time but part of his sentence was he had to complete an anger management course, and due to lack of funding there hadn't been a place on such a course in his time inside. She spent all her spare cash visiting him 80 miles away over three bus rides as often as she could. She obviously didn't want him inside, it was his only crime so at worst he was only a risk to her, but him being inside was impoverishing her.

              I wrote to the relevant SNP government ministers on her behalf and got no sympathy, just a bland statement, "we support the victims of crime not the criminals". She was the victim! I wasn't writing on his behalf, I never met the guy, she was being punished by the state for his crime against her, against her wishes.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Easy solutions

      I believe phones are charged via usb sockets on game consoles & tvs

      faraday caging introduces other problems like stopping communication with staff

      sniffers & fake nodes have been tried in the US and were defeated quickly by prisoners & tin foil

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Easy solutions

      They don't need to be fake nodes.

      Tell every mobile operator with a working signal that if they're not part of the new shared access phone mast, complete with (Probably illegal logging) the one who rejected the request can complain from a cell.

  4. Cederic Silver badge

    Why not reduce prisoner numbers?

    Surely the Government just needs to start obeying the Equality Act 2010 and remove the current gender bias from the justice system. 90% of male prison places would be freed within two years, and the additional cost of caring for people with mental health issues and psychiatric conditions in the community would be easily met by repurposing the current expenditure on looking after them in prison.

    There'd still be plenty left over for properly securing the few remaining prisoners, including the £2.5bn currently earmarked for new places that wouldn't be needed.

    1. MonkeyBob

      Re: Why not reduce prisoner numbers?

      It would definitely be better to remove short sentences and have these dealt with in the community. Unfortunately Grayling was let loose on the Justice department and decimated the probation service for the bargain price of £500 million. One (and possibly only) good thing BoJo has done is keep him out of the cabinet.

      1. Chris Parsons

        Re: Why not reduce prisoner numbers?

        I'm staggered anyone would downvote a post criticising Grayling.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why not reduce prisoner numbers?

      Surely the Government just needs to start obeying the Equality Act 2010 and remove the current gender bias from the justice system.

      How do you make sure that the criminals respect it, positive discrimination to encourage female offenders?

    3. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Why not reduce prisoner numbers?

      "remove the current gender bias from the justice system. 90% of male prison places would be freed within two years"

      First you'd have to change the arrest rate. Currently about 80-85% of arrests are of men.

      Perhaps this is down to lower educational results for men (ie the school system is more likely to fail them), meaning that they're more likely to get caught?

      Or maybe, just maybe, more crimes are committed by men?

    4. TseTT

      Re: Why not reduce prisoner numbers?

      But where's the vote catching snappy tagline in that? If it's "new" money and can convince the tory sheep to continue to vote for their elite, you've no chance.

  5. JaitcH

    Think On The Bright Side!

    The industrial-espionage links have resulted in hundreds of thousands jobs in many countries and fortunes made by companies exploiting governments.

    We should give a hat-tip to Philip R. "Phil" Zimmermann, the American computer scientist and cryptographer and the creator of Pretty Good Privacy, the most widely used email encryption software in the world also known for his work in VoIP encryption protocols, notably ZRTP and Zfone, who blew the cap off U.S. Government efforts to keep encryption from the public's hands.

  6. mark l 2 Silver badge

    Although there are uses of mobiles for criminal activity and witness intimidation, there are also lots of times when its used to keep in touch with their spouse because its the only way they can regularly keep in contact due to the extortionate prices the prisoners pay for calls.

    A prisoner maybe earning £10 a week for working in prison jobs but phone calls cost 50p a minute. Even more for international calls if the prisoner is a foreign national and their family lives abroad.

    Often in older Victorian prisons there will be perhaps 5 phones for use on a wings of 100 prisoners and they will only be able to use them during association times, which is usually just a couple of hours a day. Also you do get fights occurring because someone believed the person on the phone was taking too long and there are several prisoners waiting for the phone to be available.

    If all prisoners had access to a phone in their cells and be able to get reasonable prices for calls or even be given say 1 hour of free phone credit a month to pre-approved numbers, such as their family, friends and legal team. As it has been well proved that good support structure helps with rehabilitation and would at least reduce the number of prisoners seeking to use contraband phones to just speak to their family.

  7. Mark192 Bronze badge

    Imagine how much of this problem would disappear if they had free or subsidised calls to loved ones or family.

    1st rule of finding the needle is reduce the size of the haystack.

    1. Teiwaz Silver badge

      1st rule of finding the needle is reduce the size of the haystack.

      Governments version

      1st Rule, there must be a technological solution, find someone who understands the hashtags and order them to sort it out.

      2nd Rule, the law of the land takes precedence over mathematics (or common sense)

      3rd Throw more taxpayer money at the problem.

    2. Lotaresco Silver badge

      Nah the first rule is to buy an industrial belt-fed metal detector.

  8. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. gnarlymarley


    Maybe they should do away with trying to get the emergency services on 4G and make the prisons become notspots. Then it wouldn't matter if prisoners had cellphones, they wouldn't be able to use them.

    I am kind of surprised that parliament doesn't care about this kind of stuff and would prefer to force everyone onto 4G.

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