Justice department cracks down on crooks' mobile calls

Seven prison inmates in NSW have been given additional sentences after being found with mobile phones, the Minister for Justice John Hatzistergos said today, adding three more are due to face court on similar charges since the new laws came into effect last July.Hatzistergos said inmates have been warned about the possession of mobile phones since the laws against mobile phone possession were enacted, and that the crime is punishable by an extra two years imprisonment.

Seven prison inmates in NSW have been given additional sentences after being found with mobile phones, the Minister for Justice John Hatzistergos said today, adding three more are due to face court on similar charges since the new laws came into effect last July.

Hatzistergos said inmates have been warned about the possession of mobile phones since the laws against mobile phone possession were enacted, and that the crime is punishable by an extra two years imprisonment.

"Those new laws took effect on the 26th of July this year. Since then, 10 inmates have been hauled before the courts for possessing mobiles phones," he said. "With seven of those matters finalised, I can report that all seven inmates were sentenced to prison terms of between two and 12 months."

According to Hatzistergos, the "Commonwealth continues to ignore this issue" despite the departments repeated calls to the Australian Communications Authority requesting that mobile phone jamming technology be implemented inside the prisons.

However, the ACA voiced their concerns over using the technology in prisons following the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) investigation into the matter earlier this year.

The ACA identified alternatives to mobile phone jamming in its 2004 Mobile Phone Jammers report, pointing to other such solutions as micro-cells that can be used to detect handsets that are receiving or making calls, or hand-held devices that identify mobile phone signals.

Hatzistergos said despite the lack of government action the department has implemented a "range of measures" to prevent the entry of mobile phones and other contraband.

According to Hatzistergos, a taskforce called "Contarg" has been operating since April 2004 and has searched 7,154 visitors with passive alert dogs, leading to 86 of them being charged by police.

He said that a new visitor policy has also been implemented that dictates toilet usage during visits, and new x-ray machines have been installed in the major correctional facilities across the state.

Hatzistergos said that iris scanning machines have been purchased, designed to identify registered visitors each time they call on an inmate.

Since the laws were implemented five visitors have been banned from visiting the correctional centres, Hatzistergos said.

However, December last year it was a custodial officer of the prison by the name of Shayne Hughes that was found attempting to smuggle contraband - including 6 mobile phones - into a correctional facility, not a visitor.

New search methods have also been introduced, according to Hatzistergos, which involve full correctional centre searches monthly, and random inmate strip searches following visits.

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