Nearly 2000 mobile phones confiscated from prisoners during pandemic

The Scottish Conservatives have called for the devices to be withdrawn permanently.

Nearly 2000 mobile phones confiscated from prisoners during pandemic iStock
It emerged earlier this year that thousands of the supposedly 'un-hackable' phones had been used to buy drugs and and organise other crimes.

Mobile phones given to prisoners should be withdrawn “immediately and permanently”, ministers have been told, as new figures indicate that nearly 2000 devices were confiscated due to rule breaches.

The mobiles were provided last year in order to help support the mental health and wellbeing of those in custody after visits were banned during coronavirus lockdown.

However, in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Scottish Prison Service (SPS), it was revealed that 1899 mobile phones have been temporarily seized since May 2020.

The highest number was in Glasgow’s HMP Barlinnie, with 342 confiscations, followed by HMP Edinburgh with 262.

It emerged earlier this year that thousands of the supposedly ‘un-hackable’ phones had been used to buy drugs and organise other crimes.

The Scottish Conservatives, who submitted the FOI request to the SPS, have now called for the mobile phones to be withdrawn.

Scottish Conservative community safety spokesman Russell Findlay MSP said: “This scheme was introduced in good faith at the start of lockdown but it has become a farce.

“These supposedly un-hackable handsets were compromised almost immediately yet this was kept secret from the public and MSPs.

“It is absolutely right that prisoners should have access to their families, but this ill-conceived scheme has backfired badly.”

Findlay urged justice secretary Keith Brown to recall the handsets, with the scheme having been signed off by his predecessor, Humza Yousaf.

He continued: “Keith Brown dithered over our demands to stop drug-soaked prison mail before finally introducing new security measures. 

“It is now time for him to recall Humza’s handsets. They must be withdrawn immediately and ​permanently, and any replacement must be safe and secure.” 

A Scottish Prison Service spokesman said: “If we find anybody attempting to tamper with phones whether maliciously or otherwise then we take appropriate action.”

He said the phones have been useful in maintaining family links for those in custody, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, and calls have also been made to the Samaritans and other agencies showing they provide an outlet for mental health concerns.

He added: “We are fully supportive of them continuing in use.”