Altcourse jail prisoners using mobile phones to run crime empires

PRISONERS in a Liverpool jail are commanding their organised crime empires using mobile phones.

A damning report into HMP Altcourse slams the authorities for not investing in jamming technology that would make mobiles obsolete.

Independent inspectors say prison officers at the jail have to conduct laborious yard searches and intelligence gathering exercises in vain attempts to crack down on the phones.

The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) – a national body which inspects prisons for the Government – says buying a signal deviator is an “urgent requirement”.

Its report adds: “This Board is tired of being fobbed off with excuses from the prison service and ministers alike concerning the progress as to installation of mobile phone deviators.”

An IMB spokesman also said: “The current situation is having profound implications, particularly in terms of allowing prisoners the opportunity to organise both the availability of drugs within the prison and to control criminal activity outside the prison.”

The situation is becoming more critical as inmates are better connected than ever as handsets get more high-tech. Altcourse inmates could use web-enabled smartphones to transfer money, the IMB warns.

The category B jail, which has a maximum capacity of more than 1,320, is run by private outfit G4S.

Some of the prison officers there are represented by the Prison Officers Association (POA). POA spokesman Glynn Travis told the ECHO: “I believe deviators should be used. There would be no need for mobile phones within the establishment at all.

“It would stop the drug trafficking, the bullying and the violence that goes with the mobile phones.”

He said they are also used to taunt victims and their families.

Mr Travis said mobiles are hot property inside and are worth up to £200 and can be rented out for £150.

But they are contraband and if a rented mobile is confiscated owners often dish out harsh punishments and fines – on top of those handed out by the prison authorities.

Mr Travis added: “It’s a real problem. On average there’s one mobile for every 10 prisoners.

“If every cell was fitted with a phone, would prisoners use it? No – because they want to use them for illicit activity.”

The IMB report also expressed concerns about the transfer of inmates to Altcourse from the West Midlands.

There has been an influx from HMP Hewell, in Redditch, to ease overcrowding. Around half have been near the end of their sentence, which the IMB says shows little regard for their “human care”.

Altcourse also houses around 120 foreign criminals. But some of them are being kept there well over the end of their sentence as immigration papers are processed. The IMB say they deserve a more “humanitarian service”.

A Prison Service spokesman said: “We thank the IMB at HMP Altcourse for their report which is being fully considered by ministers. We will be responding in due course.”

A spokeswoman for G4S added: “It’s up to the Ministry of Justice whether they give deviators to prisons. We just do the best we can to try to stop mobile phones coming in with searches and the like.”