A UK anti-organized crime agency, the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), released a surprising report claiming that prisoners in the UK are using PlayStations to control their gangland empires. The report has thrust the series of Sony consoles into a growing battle between the agency and the UK Prison Service division, which insists that prisoners are not misusing consoles.
Bill Hughes, the director-general of Soca, states, "We know that one of the issues is that if you are locked up, how do you communicate with others? And we have been highlighting the fact it is not always with mobile telephones. There is other technology used — people are using PlayStations to charge their mobile phones and are playing games interactively with others, so are able to communicate with them."
He continues, "The Prison Service is concerned that prisoners are using interactive games to talk to people outside the prison. Communication is the name of the game and criminals are looking to exploit new technologies. Prisoners have rights and they have access to the internet. Some new prison guards are also being used without knowing it, but they soon become streetwise."
The Prison Service took issue with the report and Mr. Hughes’ comments. A spokesperson released a statement, reporting, "Prisoners have never been allowed access to wireless enabled technology such as that used in some games consoles. Nor would they ever be allowed access to such technology. A decision was taken some years ago that the then-current generation of games consoles should be barred because the capability to send or receive radio signals is an integral part of the equipment."
Reportedly, Phil Wheatley, the Director-General of the Prison Service spoke with Mr. Hughes on the phone and received a private apology. However, Soca continues to stand by its report that UK crimelords are using PlayStations to send secret signals to their underlings. They say codewords inside PlayStation chat rooms are being used to convey information. Further, they say prisoners are using PlayStations to recharge smuggled cell phones.
Soca says that it tracked 5,000 crime bosses over the last year in order to obtain the information. Sir Stephen Lander, retiring chairman of Soca, comments, "Many of the 5,000 are not in the UK but are impacting on the UK from overseas. Some are in prison running their organisations and we are working with colleagues in the Prison Service.Recidivism among organised criminals is high. These are lifestyle choices for these people. They will go to prison and we need to find a way of making it more difficult for them to re-engage."
In order to dissuade repeat offenses, the agency is employing so-called Serious Crime Prevention Orders, which only allows those convicted of serious offenses to carry one mobile telephone and at most £1,000 (approximately $1,500 USD) at any time. Over the last year, Soca also seized or froze assets of more than £263M (approximately $400M USD) through confiscation orders, cash seizures or forfeitures and through the civil courts. Despite these gains, many believe Britain's organized crime is out of control and that the government is having trouble keeping up.
Sony has not commented on these recent developments. PlayStations continue to sell very well in the UK.