The number of social media accounts that are shut down by the prison authorities has almost quadrupled in three years as a growing number of mobile phones are smuggled into jails.
Campaigners said the “shocking” revelations risked undermining confidence in the criminal justice system, and could leave victims feeling unsafe with the knowledge that the perpetrator could potentially contact them or their family and friends.
The data, obtained by the Press Association through freedom of information (FOI) law, shows 153 social media accounts were removed in 2015, followed by 462 in 2016, 527 in 2017 and 594 last year.
The FOI response said the figures include, but are not limited to, accounts on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
It is thought the bulk of cases were triggered by prisoners using illicit mobiles to upload content themselves, or when video or images captured in jail, or messages sent from behind bars, are posted by people on the outside.
Glyn Travis, of the Prison Officers Association (POA), said: “The use of social media sites on illegal phones by prisoners can only undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system.
“These sites continue to be accessed and prisoners are taunting victims, intimidating witnesses and organising criminal activity from the safety of a prison cell.”
Alex Mayes, of charity Victim Support, said victims “may feel unsafe knowing that the perpetrator could potentially contact them or their family and friends”.
“Victims should feel most safe when the perpetrator is serving their sentence and this news could leave them feeling that justice has not been fully served,” he added.
The Ministry of Justice declined to provide a detailed breakdown of the cases by jail or social media platform as it could prejudice the prevention or detection of crime and maintenance of security and order in prisons.
It comes amid mounting concern about the growing range of tactics being used by inmates to exploit the lucrative contraband market behind bars.
In the year to March last year, there were 10,643 incidents where mobile phones were found in prisons in England and Wales – a 15 per cent increase compared with the previous year.
Last month three dead rats stuffed with mobiles and drugs were found at HMP Guys Marsh.
A Prison Service spokesman said: “We do not tolerate the use of mobile phones in our jails and we work closely with social media companies to close accounts being used by prisoners.
“We are investing millions in body scanners, phone-blocking technology and other measures to prevent phones being smuggled into and used in prison.
“Any prisoner found with a mobile phone faces extra time behind bars.”
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