Funding competition SBRI competition: Detecting security threats and contraband in prisons

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.

This competition is now closed.

Register and apply online

Competition sections


The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) will invest up to £950,000 in Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) innovation projects to address the challenges caused by the presence of drugs, drones and mobile phones in prison environments.

The aim of this competition is to develop novel detection techniques to identify these and other contraband items.

This competition will have 2 phases. In phase one you should explain your new concepts and how they will be proved. If you are successful you will be invited to apply for phase 2 and develop a working prototype.

Phase one projects can have total costs of up to £50,000 and must last between 4 and 6 months.

Funding type


Project size

Your project’s total cost can be up to £50,000.

Find out if you are eligible to apply

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)

Projects that we won't fund

In this competition the Ministry of Justice will not fund projects covering:

  • market research
  • management consultancy
  • paper-based studies or literature reviews
  • solutions that don’t offer significant benefits to prison security
  • solutions that offer only incremental improvements

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.

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.

Competition scope

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

18 September 2017
Competition opens
20 October 2017
Applicant briefing event.
25 October 2017 1:00pm
Registration closes
1 November 2017 12:00pm
Competition closes
8 December 2017
Applicants notified

Before you start

Register online to apply for the competition and access:

  • the invitation to tender and detailed brief
  • the guidance for applicants for this competition
  • the application form
Due to security and confidentiality issues, the guidance and other related documents will only be made available to registered applicants.

We will not accept late submissions. Your application is confidential.

External, independent experts will assess the quality of your application. We will then select the projects to fund, building a portfolio of ones that:

  • are high quality
  • address the range of themes described in the scope
  • represent the potential for return on investment for the company and the UK

Subject to meeting the quality threshold, we reserve the right to manage the portfolio to achieve the correct balance of projects and funding.

Please complete your application using Microsoft Word where possible. Google Docs and other open source software can be incompatible with the application form and may remove restrictions on page length and font size. If this happens, your application will not be eligible. If you have difficulties with your application form, please contact us.

Read the competition guidance carefully before you apply. It will help you submit a quality application.

Background and further information

If you want help to find a project partner, contact the Knowledge Transfer Network.

If you need more information, contact the competition helpline on 0300 321 4357 or email us at

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