Jammers to control prison phones debated

A counsellor who works with Rimutaka Prison inmates has described a $13 million government project to stop prisoners from using cellphones as a "failed strategy".

But a spokesman for the Department of Corrections says continued investment in jamming technology is needed to prevent the malicious use of cellphones in prisons and keep the public safe.

More than 170 cellphones have been confiscated at Rimutaka Prison since the introduction of costly cellphone jamming technology to New Zealand prisons in 2009.

There were 177 incidents where one or more cellphones were confiscated between December 2009 and February this year, according to information released to the Leader under the Official Information Act.

The number of cellphone confiscations significantly increased last year, with 80 recorded incidents, compared to 47 in 2011 and 37 in 2010.

The total cost of implementing and maintaining the project at 17 New Zealand prisons was $13,378,903.

Drug and alcohol counsellor Roger Brooking, who helps inmates at Wellington prisons, said jamming technology had not stopped prisoners from using cellphones in prison and described the project as a "failed strategy".

"I think that the Corrections Department should stop wasting its money."

Mr Brooking said that last year a Rimutaka Prison inmate had told him that prisoners were able to make cellphone calls from every section of the prison.

Mr Brooking had himself used a 2degrees cellphone to make a call from the prison in 2011.

Department of Corrections finance, technology and commercial manager Jeremy Lightfoot said that the malicious use of cellphones by prisoners represented a risk to public safety.

He said that increased investment in the scheme was necessary to counter developments in the telecommunications industry.

Mr Lightfoot said the effectiveness of cellphone jamming technology was regularly assessed by the Department of Corrections, but refused to give out more information on the grounds that it would represent a serious operational risk and might impact on public safety.

SLOW JAM

Incidents where one or more cellphones found at Rimutaka Prison.

2009 (Dec only) 1.

2010 37.

2011 47.

2012 80.

2013 (to Feb) 10.

Upper Hutt Leader