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Can You Have a Phone in Prison UK?

The rules around inmates having access to mobile phones in UK prisons are complex. While prisoners are not allowed to keep personal mobile phones, some prisons do allow limited access to phones under supervision. This article examines the policies, reasons behind the rules, and the realities of illicit mobile phone use in UK prisons.

Current Policies on Mobile Phones in UK Prisons

The official rules on prisoners accessing mobile phones in the UK are:

  • Prisoners are prohibited from having personal mobile phones in their possession while incarcerated. It is a criminal offence for a prisoner to possess a phone.
  • Some prisons have landline phones installed that prisoners can use to make supervised calls at approved times.
  • In select prisons, inmates may have supervised access to prison-owned mobile phones to make approved calls. This is only available in some privately-run prisons.
  • Illicit mobile phones are considered contraband. Possession can result in punishments including loss of privileges, fines, and extra jail time.

The aim of these rules is to prevent unmonitored communications between prisoners and the outside world. There are concerns that access to personal mobile phones could allow inmates to continue criminal enterprises or threaten witnesses even while incarcerated.

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Reasons for Restricting Prisoners’ Access to Phones

There are several reasons why personal mobile phones are banned in UK prisons:

  • Security risk – Mobile phones can be used to plan criminal activities, threaten witnesses, coordinate with gangs outside, or arrange contraband smuggling into prisons.
  • Harassment of victims – Prisoners could potentially harass victims or witnesses of their crimes using illicit phones.
  • Fairness – Access to phones is seen as an unfair advantage for those prisoners who can afford illicit phones. Poorer inmates have no such access.
  • Disruption – Mobile phones can enable prisoners to disrupt prison order, for example by intimidating other inmates.

The UK prison service maintains that prohibiting personal mobile phone access is necessary to “ensure the safety and security of prisoners, staff and the public”.

The Reality of Illicit Mobile Phones in Prisons

Despite the bans, illicit mobile phones are rife in UK prisons according to reports:

  • In 2018, over 15,000 illicit phones and SIM cards were seized from prisons in England and Wales.
  • The number of confiscated phones has quadrupled from around 3,600 in 2014 to over 13,000 in 2020.
  • Around 20% of UK prisoners are estimated to illegally use mobile phones while incarcerated.
  • The phones are smuggled in by visitors, drones, thrown over walls or sent in packages. Some staff have also been found complicit.
  • Inmates pay up to £500 for an illegal phone, far above the regular street prices.
  • High-security jails see greater numbers of illicit phones.

The availability of illegal mobile phones enables inmates to potentially undermine prison control and continue criminal activities from their cells.

Consequences for Prisoners Caught with Phones

The penalties for UK inmates caught possessing illicit mobile phones can include:

  • Confiscation of the device.
  • Cell searches and loss of privileges.
  • Fines of up to £2,500 under prison disciplinary procedures.
  • Extra jail time may be added to the prison sentence. The maximum is 2 years for possession of phones.
  • Prosecution for criminal offenses related to the phone usage, such as conspiracy or intimidating witnesses. This can add up to 5 years to the sentence.
  • Solitary confinement in segregation as punishment.
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Despite the risks, the high black market value of mobile phones in jail leads some prisoners to persist with illegal phone usage.

Supervised Prison Phone Schemes

Some prisons in the UK do allow inmates supervised limited access to phones under authorized phone schemes:

  • Privately run prisons – Some offer supervised access to personal phones. Prisoners must provide contacts for approval. Calls and texts are monitored.
  • Prisoner phone scheme – Over 30 prisons have secure wall-mounted phones inmates can use to make approved calls at set times. These are recorded.


In summary, personal mobile phones are completely banned for prisoners in the UK due to security concerns. However, some prisons do allow supervised access to landline or prison-owned mobile phones on a restricted basis. Illicit mobile phone usage is rife in jails despite being illegal. Inmates caught with phones face punishments including extending their prison sentence. While total restrictions on communications can seem harsh, the policy aims to prevent inmates continuing criminal activities from their cells or intimidating witnesses. The balance between security and rehabilitation continues to be debated when it comes to prison mobile phone access in the UK.

Here is a summary of the key points:

  • Prisoners are prohibited from possessing personal mobile phones in the UK.
  • The aim is to prevent unmonitored communications that could threaten security.
  • But illicit phones are rife, with over 15,000 seized in 2018 alone.
  • Inmates caught face punishments like fines, loss of privileges, extra jail time.
  • Some prisons do allow supervised use of landline or prison-owned mobiles.
  • The policy aims for security but is debated due to rehabilitation needs.
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Can I have my own mobile phone in prison in the UK?

No, prisoners are not allowed to have personal mobile phones in their possession while in prison in the UK. Mobile phones are prohibited items and will be confiscated if found.

What happens if guards find a mobile phone in my prison cell?

If guards find an illicit mobile phone in your cell, it will be confiscated immediately. You will face disciplinary action such as fines, loss of privileges, extra time added to your sentence, or prosecution for related offenses. Possession of a mobile phone in prison is illegal.

Do UK prisons provide any access to phones for prisoners?

Some UK prisons have landline phones installed that prisoners can use to make supervised calls at approved times. A few privately run prisons also allow supervised access to prison-owned mobile phones on a restricted basis to make approved calls. But personal mobiles are banned.

Is it a crime to smuggle a phone into a UK prison?

Yes, it is a criminal offense to supply a mobile phone to a prisoner in the UK. Any visitors, staff, or outside contacts caught attempting to smuggle phones into the prison to give to an inmate face prosecution.

What are the main reasons mobiles are banned in UK prisons?

The main reasons are to prevent unmonitored communications, disruptive criminal activities being orchestrated in prison, harassment of victims, unfair inequality of access between inmates, and threats to prison security and control.

Prison Inside Team

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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