EXCL Prisoners 'bragging on social media' as new figures show hundreds of accounts shut down behind bars
Hundreds of social media accounts had to be shut down last year because they were being used inside prisons, PoliticsHome can reveal.
Data released by HM Prison and Probation Service under Freedom of Information laws shows that social media firms had to remove 387 profiles at the request of prison authorities in 2019.
New Conservative MP Tom Hunt warned that inmates were “bragging on social media about how easy life in prison is”, while the Lib Dems accused ministers of presiding over “overcrowded and understaffed” jails.
The findings come amid a promised £100m ramping up of prison security, with ministers pledging last year to bring in airport-style security in a bid to stop drugs, weapons and mobile phones from making their way into the facilities.
While 387 accounts had to be purged in 2019, that was a drop on the 594 logged in 2018.
However, the number of removals is still more than twice as high as it was in 2015, when just 153 accounts were shut down on the orders of prison bosses.
The prison service declined to give details on the incidents or a breakdown of the social media firms ordered to take down accounts, arguing that doing so could “could divulge tactics utilised by HMPPS to identify and remove illicit access to social media”.
But the figures were seized on by Conservative MP Tom Hunt, who has already raised the issue of inmates using social media with ministers after a string of “appalling” behind-bars posts from those involved in the killing of Ipswich teenager Tavis Spencer-Aitkens.
Callum Plaats - one of five jailed for killing Mr Spencer-Aitkens - made headlines in January when a Facebook post appeared in his name boasting: “Five years left, light work."
Mr Hunt told PoliticsHome that message had “caused significant distress and upset for Tavis's loved ones”.
And the Suffolk MP said: “It's very worrying that there have been so many incidents of convicted criminals using social media in prison.”
He added: “It’s very important that more consideration is given throughout our justice system to the victims and the families of the victims.
“The last thing they want to see are the perpetrators of the sickening crimes that have caused so much distress for them and their families bragging on social media about how easy life in prison is. Justice must be done and seen to be done."
Mr Hunt welcomed the £100m fund aimed at bolstering prisoner security, as well as wider government plans to shake up sentencing.
“However, I do believe that when there is evidence that a prisoner has clearly broken the rules by using social media in prison that they are properly punished," he said.
"There needs to be strong deterrents to prevent others from using social media even if they're able to smuggle devices into prison, though clearly I hope that this £100 million package is successful in closing down this possibility."
Responding to the figures, Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Daisy Cooper told PoliticsHome: “Victims of crime cannot feel truly safe if perpetrators can contact them from prison on social media, unauthorised. By allowing the prisons crisis to go on, and on, this Conservative Government is failing victims.
“Prisons are overcrowded and understaffed, and this is yet more evidence that overstretched prison officers simply can’t keep prisoners under control."
She added: "To properly protect victims, we must end this crisis and transform prisons into places of rehabilitation and recovery.”
The finding comes after the public spending watchdog warned of major pressure on the prisons system in England and Wales, with inmates "being held in unsafe and crowded conditions".
A report published earlier this month by the National Audit Office said there had been a 110% rise in assaults on staff between 2015 and 2018, as well as a 63% jump in prisoner-on-prisoner assaults.
A Prison Service spokesman said: “We work closely with internet companies to get these accounts taken down quickly, while our x-ray scanners and phone blocking technology are making it harder for criminals to smuggle phones into jail.”
The service also said a new ‘digital forensics unit’ was being finalised to ensure mobile phones found on prisoners can be analysed for evidence of offences.
Those caught in possession of a phone in prison can already be sentenced to an additional two years behind bars.
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