A New Trial in Lithgow Jail to Cut Prison Crime

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This month in the Sydney District Court, Bassam Hamzy pleaded guilty to the kidnapping of John Baroutas back in 2008 as well as supplying a commercial quantity of drugs and other offences.

But the most astonishing thing is that he was found to have masterminded all of his crimes from behind bars by arranging for a phone to be smuggled into Lithgow jail.

He managed to do this despite being described as ‘one of Australia’s most dangerous criminals’, and it appears that even the highest security jail has not been able to stop him committing crimes.

Although receiving the highest classification in the NSW prison system (A1), Hamzy managed to commit not only the kidnapping and commercial supply of methamphetamines, but also a further 15 offences.

One of the offences included using a false or stolen credit card to book plane flights from inside Lithgow jail! Another was arranging an additional kidnapping!

Prisons are supposed to serve several functions for society, from punishing to preventing the commission of further crimes, to acting as a deterrent to others who might consider offending.

Although they are also supposed to assist in the rehabilitation of offenders, the reverse is often true.

In fact, many inmates learn new skills to commit crimes while they are serving prison sentences. They may apply these skills upon release or, in the case of Hamzy, while still incarcerated.

Hamzy has been in jail since the age of 18 and is now 34. His criminal record is lengthy and serious, including murder and conspiring to murder a witness.

In another case, a detainee of Villawood Detention centre managed to coordinate a cocaine supply operation using his mobile phone.

In 2012, 239 mobile phones were found throughout NSW prisons although they are illegal in jail.

Mobile phones are small and do not contain a lot of metal, which can make them hard to detect. They may be smuggled in, thrown over prison walls or brought in by corrupt prison officers.

As such, they have been a challenge for jail authorities to find and monitor.

However, the days where criminals who continue their illegal behaviour in jail using their mobile phones may be numbered.

A new trial has commenced in Lithgow jail where technology prevents any phones inside the prison from connecting with any networked mobile phone towers.

This technology is already in use in New Zealand and the US. It is expected that the technology will eliminate the threat of smuggled mobile phones being used from inside prison to commit further crimes.

Usually, jamming phones is illegal in Australia, but the prison trial is an exception, receiving special approval from the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

At first there were concerns that the move would interfere with mobiles outside the prison grounds and the major telecommunication companies were reluctant to get on board.

For a while it even looked as if the project was not going to go ahead however the trial got permission and even got the big telecommunication companies to co-operate.

However considerable effort was put into making sure that the trial would not interfere with mobile phones outside the jail.

Each cell room it is hooked up to dozens of antennas to block the mobile signals.

If the technology had been in place back in 2008 when Hamzy had committed the kidnapping and other offences, the crimes might have been prevented.

Incredibly, he had made over 19,500 phone calls from prison in just a few weeks using his mobile phone, hidden in his cell.

The phone-jamming technology is expected to be implemented across the country, potentially solving one a very difficult challenge for prison authorities.

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Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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