Mobile Phones in Prison: Rules for Communication in the UK

Incarceration is a lonely experience, both for the person in prison and the family members on the outside. One thing that can minimise the space felt between loved ones, and that can make the experience a fraction more enjoyable is clear communication. Of course, this has its own set of challenges. Conversations between inmates and those in the outside world are strictly monitored and supervised for understandable reasons.

Mobile Phones in Prison: Rules for Communication in the UK

 Prisoners right to make calls

As a general rule, prisoners have the right to call anybody on the outside using a prison phone. They can only phone people named on their specific list of friends and family. The individuals on this list are checked by security each time the inmates list them as a potential contact. A background check and relationship confirmation are conducted to assure the communication is occurring for safe and healthy reasons. 

Additionally, the prison staff can listen to and record most types of calls both in and out of prison. There are some exceptions to this rule because certain calls are protected, for example, if they contain legal or medical information. If the person on the outside is not available to receive the call, the prison voicemail system can be utilised. Again, this is closely monitored and recorded.

Mobile telephones call to and from prisoners

In the age of increasingly proficient technology, almost everybody has a mobile phone in their teenage years. Contrary to the outside world, mobile phones are one item that is strictly prohibited among the prison population. 

Authorities have identified the illegal use of mobile phones as one of the most significant threats faced by prisons. That said, illicit possession and use of mobile phones by prison inmates are becoming an issue at an alarmingly rapid rate. There was a 15% increase in confiscated contraband phones from 2017 to 2018. It is strictly a criminal offence to send an inmate a mobile device concealed in other items. However, they are still finding their ways into the prison walls routinely. 

What does the law state about the usage of electronic devices in prison?

Section 40D of the Prison Act 1952 (as inserted by section 23 of the Offender Management Act 2007) provides:

(1) A person who, without authorisation

(b) transmits, or causes to be transmitted, any image or any sound from inside a prison by electronic communications for simultaneous reception outside the prison is guilty of an offence.

Section 40D(3A) of the Prison Act 1952 makes possession, without authorisation, of a device capable of transmitting or receiving images, sounds or information by electronic communications (including a mobile telephone) inside a prison an offence.

 To minimise the need for mobile phones and increased communication through illicit means, the Ministry of Justice in England and Wales announced a plan to install in-cell phones in 20 prisons in July of 2018. The expansion was increased to an additional 30 prisons throughout the winter of 2018 into 2019. 

Authorities recognise the importance of communication with loved ones on the outside. They are hoping greater access to lawful means of contact will reduce the need to procure illegal phones. As well as hopefully helping prisoners connect with their families, the phones will also have the dual benefit of allowing them easier access to support services and mental health help. The aim is that with greater access to charities and support services targeted at aiding the mental health will reduce the struggles that commonly plague prisoners (such as self-harm and suicidal ideation). 

 Although it may seem counterintuitive, the worst thing you can do for a loved one in prison is sneak them a mobile phone. It can not only have legal ramifications on you; it can also lengthen their sentence and make their stay more complicated. On the other hand, by calling a prisoner’s illegally owned mobile phone, you may have committed a criminal offence either intentionally or unintentionally.

No matter how frustrating, complying with the rules is critical. Be sure always to have money in their account so that they can make calls whenever accessible. 

Ensuring you do not commit an offence as a solicitor

You must not call your client in prison using a mobile phone. You must also instruct your employees accordingly. If you receive a call from a prisoner via a mobile phone, you must terminate the call immediately if you are sure that the call is from the mobile phone and the person is in prison.

It is best to inform the caller that they are committing a crime and that you and your employees will not answer the call in this situation.

You may want to warn your callers/clients that when they continue to make calls from their mobile phones in jail, your retainer may be terminated because the client puts you in a position that may make you complicit in a crime.

Action Plan

No matter what your needs are, our experienced team of lawyers can provide you with the help and advice you need. Contact one of our experienced human rights lawyers for expert legal advice. 

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