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Reprinted News

NSW prison jams smuggled phones

NSW prison jams smuggled phones

  • 2016-02-15

An Australian-first trial of technology that will stop inmates from making calls from mobile phones they've illegally smuggled into jail has begun at a prison west of Sydney.

A decade after it was first proposed, mobile phone jamming began at Lithgow Correctional Centre on Tuesday.

Dozens of antennas installed into prison cell blocks will prevent mobile signals being received.

While it is illegal for anyone to have a mobile phone inside a jail, 239 were found in NSW prisons in 2012.

Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin said mobile phones often found their way into prisons via visits or by being thrown over fences. He said the technology would help stop inmates from organising crime from behind bars.

Mr Severin said if the nine-month $1.06 million Lithgow trial proved successful in stopping calls while not impacting on mobile phone use outside the jail then jamming would likely be rolled out to the state's other maximum security prisons.

"We believe this jamming technology is the ultimate answer because even if an inmate does obtain a mobile phone, it will be worthless because it won't work," he said.

It was in Lithgow jail in 2008 that one of the state's most dangerous prisoners Bassam Hamzy was detected making more than 19,500 calls in just a matter of weeks using a mobile phone hidden in his cell.

The Brothers For Life gang leader used the phone to direct the supply of a massive amount of drugs between Sydney and Melbourne, as well as orchestrating the intimidation of others. The mobile phone was passed around his cell block using dental floss.

Corrupt prison officers have also been caught smuggling phones and other contraband to inmates. In January the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) found Long Bay officer Karaha Pene Te-Hira accepted thousands of dollars in exchange for smuggling mobile phones and chargers, SIM cards, steroids and mail.

Prison officers with mobile phone sniffer dogs have since increased the number of random and targeted searches for phones to 92,560 searches of prison cells and common areas in 2012, 17,522 more than in 2011.

But Justice Minister Greg Smith said it was hoped jamming may prove to be the most effective way to combat illicit phone use in prisons.

"They post a threat to the security of correctional centres and community safety as they are often used to facilitate crime outside prison walls."

NSW Corrective Services had to seek exemptions from the Australian Communications and Media Authority to conduct the trial as current legislation makes it an offence to operate, supply or possess a jamming device.

Fairfax Media understands the Australian telecommunication companies were initially opposed the trial but agreed after extensive planning was done to ensure the the jamming system would not affect mobile phone services outside the jail. Telstra, Optus and Vodafone are now cooperating with the trial and will monitor the results.

Mobile phone jamming is already used in other countries including the US, Bermuda, New Zealand and the Cayman Islands.

The trial was first announced a year ago and originally planned to start in early 2013.

Facts and figures

- 39 mobile phones and accessories detected in NSW prisons in 2009
- 239 mobile phone detected and accessories in NSW prisons in 2012
- 92,560 searches of prison cells and common areas undertaken in 2012 - 17,522 more than in 2011
- signal jamming trial will cost $1.06 and will run for nine months


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