Scottish prisoners face ‘punishment or withdrawal’ after hacking tamper-proof phones for drugs

Director General of the Scottish Prison Service: where phones have been tampered with, prisoners will be subject to “punishment and / or removal”


Scottish prisoners who tampered with phones handed to them during the Covid lockdown to buy drugs and engage in other criminal activity will face ‘punishment and / or removal’, the Scottish Prison chief warned Service.An exclusive ITV News survey found that ‘tamper-proof’ mobile phones given to inmates during the Scottish government’s Covid lockdown to contact friends and family were almost immediately hacked into Scotland’s largest prison, Barlinnie.

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) said 728 phones have been found since August 2020 to work with illegal SIM cards, used for drug trafficking and other criminal activity.

The ITV News revelations were cited by Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) in both Holyrood House and the Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday.

The acting director general of the SPS told the Criminal Justice Committee that detainees convicted of tampering with cell phones would be subject to the full force of the law.Teresa Medhurst said: “Where these phones have been tampered with, there are provisions to ensure that we apply an appropriate degree of sanction and / or takedown, depending on the circumstances under which the nature of the tampering occurred.”


Russell Findlay MSP Cites ITV News Prison Investigation to Criminal Justice Committee


Russell Findlay MSP said he spoke directly to ITV News Scotland correspondent Peter Smith, who informed him that prisoners were smuggling seals allowing them to tamper with the phone and re-lock it, which means that inspection personnel have no way of knowing that it has been tampered with.

Ms Medhurst said she had no information on the number of compromised phones.

“The availability of different means and methods of serious organized crime infiltrating not only our country but our prisons is clearly important and that is why we have such a close relationship with our colleagues at Police Scotland, and are working with them very intensively around of some of the threats and vulnerabilities that this poses, “she said.


Inside Barlinnie: Peter Smith enters Scotland’s largest prison and gets exclusive access to how he tackles the problem of inmates struggling with drug addiction


Ms Medhurst said that in the future “risks will be minimized” and “additional measures will be put in place” – both internal security measures and technological solutions.Ms Medhurst said phones were introduced into prisons a year ago and the prison service continually seeks to identify where “the vulnerabilities are located and seek technological solutions to minimize those vulnerabilities.”The Prison Service was working with the Scottish Government to decide whether cell phone use in prisons would continue or whether a more ‘tech-centric’ approach would be taken instead.

“It has been a learning process for us, as we have experienced over the past year, and much of that learning will now be used to inform on how best to take the next steps as a ‘organization, and we will do this jointly with colleagues in the Scottish Government, ”added Ms Medhurst.She explained that cell phones were brought into prisons within four months when it was “uncertain” when families would be able to visit detainees in detention – describing the situation as “unusual” and “unprecedented”.

Ms Medhurst said: ‘We needed to quickly identify other ways for people to maintain family contact, not only to ensure that families who were incredibly concerned and frightened for the welfare of their loved ones in detention could be reassured. , but the mental health of those in custody too.

Barlinnie is Scotland’s largest prison. Credit: ITV News

The ITV News prison investigation was also raised in Holyrood on Wednesday by several MSPs. The investigation found that prisoners were using increasingly complex and secretive methods to smuggle drugs, including drug-soaked legal letters.

Mr Findlay said several weeks ago he had asked Scottish Justice Minister Keith Brown to consider photocopying the letters rather than allowing the original letters to enter the prison to stem this flow, and asked what had been done about it.


Russell Findlay MSP asks if letters can be photocopied instead of allowing originals, which could be drug-soaked, in prisons


Mr Brown said: “This is a complex area, this is an area that was known to the prison services and they are now reviewing it and the officials who were either present at the committee meeting that the member is referring to or have listened to our review of this proposal.

“It was a constructive proposal and I take it with that in mind, and I would ask the member to give us time to seriously consider this and get back to him.”


Conservative MP Tess White asks Scottish government what immediate action is being taken to discipline prisoners and prevent criminal activity on the prison grounds


Tess White, Conservative MSP for North East Scotland, asked what immediate punishment prisoners would face and how this criminal activity would be prevented in the future.In response, Scottish Justice Secretary Keith Brown said: “The member will know or should know that the issue of prisoners being disciplined is a matter for the Scottish Prison Service, they are making that decision.”He added: “The advantages of the phones that you rightly mentioned, one of the problems with the phones in terms of tampering, the advantages have been enormous in terms of the management of the prison services, which have not been been able to operate in the as they have done in the past.


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