Forty mobile phones and SIM cards seized in prisons daily, as crackdown launched
Soaring numbers of mobile phones are being seized in prisons, figures have revealed as the government launches a new crackdown to target inmates who use devices to run criminal operations from behind bars.
Nearly 15,000 handsets and SIM cards were recovered in jails in England and Wales in 2015 - equivalent to 40 every day.
The tally had jumped sharply compared to 2013 and 2014, when 7,400 and 9,745 were seized respectively.
It came as it was confirmed that new powers targeting the illegal use of mobile phones in prisons have come into force.
Under the measures, introduced in the Serious Crime Act 2015, prison governors will no longer have to physically find phones or deploy blocking technology to stop them being used.
Instead, prison staff or police will be able to cut off the phones remotely by producing evidence that a given number is being used illicitly.
Once a number is identified, authorities can apply to the courts for a Telecommunications Restriction Order (TRO) through which mobile networks can be instructed to blacklist the phone remotely - rendering it unusable.
Prisons already use a number of "covert techniques" to identify which devices are being used within an institution, the Home Office said. This information would be supplied to police and law enforcement agencies so a TRO could be sought.
The use of phones behind bars has been linked to drug dealing and gun smuggling.
In one case, a judge condemned as a "scandal" the "wholly inadequate" prison security that allowed an inmate to mastermind a plot to import Skorpion submachine guns into Britain from Germany.
Alexander Mullings secretly orchestrated the operation from his cell at HMP Wandsworth in south-west London using a mobile phone. Mullings, 25, was jailed for life with a minimum term of 10 years in February last year.
The new powers - which took effect last week- will be overseen by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner.
Security minister Ben Wallace said: "Criminals are locked up to protect communities from their actions - so it is totally unacceptable for them to continue their life of crime behind bars.
"Telecommunications Restriction Orders will give us the power to disconnect the phones prisoners use to continue orchestrating serious crimes while in jail."
Justice Secretary Liz Truss said:"We are determined to do all we can to prevent prisoners having access to mobile phones.
"We are stepping up measures to find and block them and empowering prison officers to take action."
Ms Truss added: "I am determined to make sure our prisons are safe, and places of rehabilitation."