Cell phones 'would help prisoners maintain family links'

By Reevel Alderson
Home affairs correspondent, BBC Scotland

  • Published
Eastenders phone
Image caption,
Eastenders Mick Carter had to use a communal phone to call home from prison

Landline phones should be provided in prison cells, to help inmates maintain contact with families on the outside, a new report has said.

Currently prisoners can only access pay phones in communal areas.

Independent think tank Reform Scotland said this makes it difficult to have confidential family conversations.

It said in-cell phones would help prisoners' rehabilitation, but the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) said it has no current plans to introduce them.

In its report Calling Home for Christmas, Reform Scotland said 10 prisons in England and Wales have already introduced in-cell telephones.

Research director Alison Payne said: "Due to distance or circumstance some family members will be unable to see or speak to their loved one as often as they would like, if at all."

Call home

She added: "Allowing prisoners to have more regular contact to friends and family, as they do in England and Wales, can benefit not just the inmate, but their family as well.

"Tomorrow is Christmas Day. In England, many prisoners will be able to call home from their cell, speaking to their children about what Santa has brought them and maintaining a relationship for when they are released."

The National Audit Office praised the initiative in 2013, which it suggested could help help make jails safer.

It said: "In-cell telephones, as well as allowing prisoners to maintain family contact (important for successful rehabilitation), also contribute to prisoner safety."

The former Justice Secretary, David Liddington, visited a women's prison in Middlesex where in-cell landlines have been installed.

He said: "The women were able to keep in contact with families in the middle of the night if they have a crisis, to talk to a friend or family or ring the Samaritans.

"I think it makes for a calmer and better functioning prison."

Image caption,
SPS says there are no current plans for in-cell telephones in Scottish jails

Scotland's Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf agreed it was important for prisoners to maintain family links, which evidence suggested could reduce the risk of reoffending.

He said: "You have to remember that children and even families of an inmate in prison; they are themselves victims.

"They have done nothing wrong, but they will spend Christmas without perhaps their father or a partner.

"That is difficult for them, of course, but also we know from the offending behaviour that family and links to family can be one of the greatest motivational factors to stop them reoffending in the future."

The SPS said maintaining close family ties was an integral part of successfully rehabilitating prisoners back into the community.

But communications director Tom Fox said there were no current plans to introduce in-cell phones in Scottish jails.

He said: "We work very hard to maintain positive family links for those in our care.

"That being said, we have no current plans to introduce telephones in cells.

"There are provisions within the halls for individuals to use telephones, and I think all the staff recognise that at this time of year that's a particularly important thing, for those in our care, particularly those who have young children."

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