Electronic Contrabands global headache to Prisons: Can Mobile cell phones be stopped entry to prisons?

AT one time in this column, I questioned the wisdom of the British citizens when a new Prisons and Court Bill was proposed to the UK parliament to exclude the word punishment in the definition of the purpose of jail.

It was reported in “The Telegraph Newspaper” that the former UK’s Justice Secretary Ms Liz Truss before submitting the Bill, she had addressed prison governors that they should protect the public, reform and rehabilitate offenders; prepare them for life outside to be safe and secure.

This legislation did not place any obligation on prisons to punish offenders, reigniting the row over the so-called “holiday camp” jails. That means prisons are no longer places for punishment based on that wording excluded from the first legal definition of the purpose of jails.

Unfortunately this did not auger well with her colleagues-parliamentarians; Ms Truss was under mounting pressure with Cabinet colleagues calling for her to be stripped off her role as Lord Chancellor and for her department to be broken up. She was accused of being soft to the crime!

According to that controversial Bill, it implied that prisons should protect the public, reform and rehabilitate offenders, prepare prisoners for life outside, be safe and secure, but not to be punished.

However, the Parliament was dissolved before they could deliberate on the Bill and the Secretary of Justice Ms Truss did not come back to that post. Interestingly, the current UK Justice Secretary, David Gauke recently came with what could be another surprise to the third world countries that the government is to spend £7m on in-cell telephones in prisons to help with rehabilitation. The installing in-cell telephones in prisons across England and Wales will be part of a drive to improve rehabilitation, curb violence and stem the flow of illegal mobiles!

Authorities have identified the illegal use of mobiles as one of the most significant threats faced by jails. Other measures taken to stop handsets getting into prisons include the introduction of body scanners and improved searching techniques.

The Justice Secretary says, “Introducing them to more prisons is a recognition of the contribution I believe in-cell telephones make to turning prisons into places of decency where offenders have a real chance to transform their lives.”

Currently, in-cell phones are installed in 20 prisons in England and Wales, thousands more prisoners will get telephones in their cells under government plans to tackle violence and re-offending.

The government hopes the scheme will boost rehabilitation by helping inmates maintain family ties, tackle the flow of illegal mobiles and reduce tension.

Smuggling into or from prisons contrabands such as cell phones is a global problem associated with advent of technology and no country including Tanzania is spared of that. But is it a correct way of dealing with it in the manner? Yes, you cannot stop floods with bare hands; you need something extra to address the problem.

The British Authorities have identified the illegal use of mobiles as one of the most significant threats faced by prisons. In the 12 months to March last year, there were 10,643 incidents where mobile phones were found in prisons, a 15% increase on the previous year.

With the kind of rich prisoners we are having in our Tanzania prisons, are we really safe? I hope we have this kind of data to work with.

According to a study on “The demand for and use of illicit phones” carried by HM Prisons and Probation Services on the use of cell phone in prisons, it was revealed that Mobile phones in prisons can be used for a range of social and criminal purposes.

These include communications with family and friends but also sustaining criminal activity. serious incidents having included commissioning serious violence, furthering organised crime, facilitating escape, harassing victims of crime and involvement in gang activity.

Furthermore, access to mobile phones supports drug supply within prisons and can also be associated with violence and bullying of more vulnerable prisoners.

Mobile phones are key driver of violence and intimidation within prisons, under mining the good order of the prison, making prisons more difficult to manage and leaving vulnerable prisoners both more exposed to risk and more difficult to protect.

It is clear that the use of mobile phones in prisons can present serious security risks and challenges. Mobile phones can facilitate criminal activity both within and outside prisons – primarily drug dealing and the trafficking of mobile phones.

It would appear, however, that organised criminals had become much more conscious of the risks of the authorities monitoring mobile phone calls and were less likely to rely on them.

What do others say on this move? For correctional fraternity and on the professional point of view at this 21st century, is it appropriate to introduce mobile phones in our prisons as a measure of curbing smuggling of the same into the prisons? This depends on the level of development the country has reached. It is just like introducing conjugal visitation to prisons while you have other priorities at stake. The disadvantages in introducing mobile phones in prisons outweigh the advantages particularly in the developing countries working against myriads of challenges.

Punishment is the oldest form of societal response to the wrongdoer. It should remain as a form of deterrence to others lest prisons become “holiday camp” jails. Traditionally, many forms of punishments were conducted in public so as to serve as a deterrent for other possible offenders and in the case of corporal punishment the intent was often to add humiliation similar to “shaming”.

While today the severity of such punishments may have abated in most parts of the world punishment has been couched to specialized terminology and rationalized on the grounds of various theoretical models. Allowing cell phones to prison cells would be going too far.

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