Detecting security threats and contraband in prisons

Key Features

Businesses can apply for a share of £950,000. This is to work with the Ministry of Justice on technological solutions to the problems that drones, drugs, mobile phones, and other contraband, pose within a prison environment.

Programme:     SBRI

Award:     Up to £50k

Opens: 18th Sep 2017

Closes: 1st Nov 2017

! This scheme is now closed

The problems of drugs, mobile phones, drones and other contraband within prisons have been widely covered by the media.

The aim of this competition is to develop novel detection techniques to identify and reduce the threat of these items within prison environments. Proposals for phase 1 funding should set out new concepts and how they will be proved.

At phase 1 projects should address at least one of the following:

1. The detection, identification and location of mobile phones and SIM cards, including phones with very low metal content.

2. The detection and location of illegal substances, particularly in very small quantities.

3. The detection, identification and location of other contraband, including tobacco, alcohol, weapons and explosives.

4. The detection and identification of drones (also known as remotely-piloted airborne systems).

5. The capture or safe destruction of drones.

Phase 1 projects need to prove that the techniques are scientifically sound and practical to employ. Your solutions must be:

  • robust enough to withstand the prison environment
  • able to be applied widely across the UK’s prison estates
  • commercially exploitable

Specific competition themes

Your solution should be able to detect contraband in one or more of the following scenarios:

  • on persons
  • concealed inside the body
  • in bags
  • within buildings
  • at entry and exit points
  • in vehicles
  • in open areas


To lead a project you must:

  • be an EU-based organisation
  • carry out your project in the UK
  • be prepared to take appropriate security measures

You can:

  • be an organisation of any size
  • work alone or in collaboration with others (including businesses, research base and third sector)

Funding and project details

The Ministry of Justice has allocated up to £500,000 to fund innovation projects in phase 1 of this competition.

Individual phase 1 proposals can request project costs of up to £50,000.

**Please note** A further £450,000 has been allocated for phase 2 projects which requires concepts proven at phase 1 to be developed into working prototypes. Only winners of phase 1 projects will be invited to bid for phase 2 funding.

Project types

The SBRI process allows the Ministry of Justice to fund 100% of each project’s costs under the pre-commercial procurement (PCP) of research and development (R&D) protocol. Pre-commercial procurement is a way for the public and private sectors to share the risks and rewards of R&D. Contracts to carry out R&D services will be awarded by the Ministry of Justice to successful bidders.