In a further tightening of security at Queensland prisons, Corrective Services Minister Judy Spence last month announced a total ban on mobile phones from all correctional centers.

Spence said Queensland was one of the first in Australia to introduce a legislative ban on mobile phones in corrections centers in July 2001. The total ban means no one will be authorized to take a mobile phone into a jail.

Spence said anyone caught trying to take a mobile phone into a Queensland prison -- whether they are a visitor, a staff member or a prisoner -- risks a maximum penalty of two years jail.

"This is about being tough on prisoners who try to continue illegal activity behind bars," Spence said. "Earlier this year, Corrective Services authorities successfully foiled an escape attempt from Lotus Glen Correctional Centre, when a convicted murder used a mobile phone to plot an escape involving firearms and a helicopter. "Intelligence officers retrieved SMS messages detailing the escape plans from a mobile phone that had been smuggled into the prison and found in the prisoner's possession.

"While there have been no escapes from secure custody since the Beattie Government came to office in 1998, we are always looking at ways to further improve prison security."

Spence said recent advances in mobile phone technology mean the devices could now be used to transmit audio and digital photos, connect to the internet, send and receive emails and text messages.

"This poses a real security risk in our prisons which I am not prepared to accept," Spence said. "If offenders get access to mobile phones while in jail, they could continue criminal activities, threaten people in the community or access telephone banking facilities."

Spence said mobile phones in prisons had been identified by correctional jurisdictions across the world as a significant and growing problem. While mobile phones are getting smaller and becoming easier to hide, departmental intelligence officers have been employing a range of detection methods.

"Queensland already uses a range of detection methods including x-ray, metal detection units and mobile phone detection units," Spence said. "In addition, the use of the prisoner telephone system is monitored to detect anything that suggests other forms of communication are being used."

"Since 1998, the Beattie Government has made a range of security enhancements to prevent an escape, including upgrades to the perimeter and entry of every facility, armed vehicle patrols, razor wire, concrete barriers, x-ray technology, metal detectors and upgraded cameras."

Spence said her decision to ban all mobile phones followed a recommendation to the Corrective Services Minister's Conference in May 2005.

"It has always been the case that prisoners caught with a mobile phone in their possession risked a maximum penalty of two years in jail," Spence said. "Now there will be no exceptions. "If anyone takes a mobile phone to a Queensland prison and you risk a maximum penalty of two years in jail."