Published On: Tue, Aug 29th, 2017

Criminals should have PHONES in their cells to speak to loved ones, says think-tank

Reform Scotland called for landlines to be fitted in a pilot scheme claiming it could cut re-offending.

Some jails in England already have in-cell phones and prisoners there could soon have access to Skype-style video calls to keep in touch with relatives.

Earlier this year, Scotland’s chief inspector of prisons David Strang backed having phones in cells arguing it would help rehabilitation.

Scottish Prison Service (SPS) chief executive Colin McConnell also previously floated the idea when he said he wanted inmates to be treated with “respect and decency”.

But it was dropped in 2013 amid a backlash over “soft-touch” prison conditions and fears of inmates being able to run their criminal activities from behind bars.

Last night, Scottish Tory justice spokesman Liam Kerr insisted the move would be a “a step too far and could jeopardise the other tenets of prison – punishment, deterrence and public safety”.

He added: “The existence of mobile phones in prison causes huge headaches for jail bosses, to the extent some facilities even have signal jamming technology.

“It’s hard to see how that would tie in with this suggestion.”

Prisoners can access payphones in communal jail areas using phonecards but they can only contact up to 10 named people on a list of friends and family.

Outgoing calls are preceded by a message warning the recipient that a prisoner is calling.

Contact can also be limited to emails that are printed out and delivered to prisoners with the mail.

Reform Scotland research director Alison Payne said “bold and innovative” measures were needed “to close the revolving door of reoffending”.

Calling for a pilot phone scheme she added: “Prison exists for four key reasons – punishment, deterrence, public safety and rehabilitation.

“The fourth – rehabilitation – does not always receive the attention it deserves.

“However, rehabilitating prisoners and preventing re-offending is important not just for the prisoner, but also for his or her family and for society as a whole.

“If family contact helps to reduce re-offending, as well as helping those left outside, then it is something that needs to be encouraged.”

An SPS spokeswoman said there were “currently no plans” to install in-cell phones.

She added: “The Scottish Prison Service recognises the importance of maintaining family links with a family member during their time in custody and continues to look at ways in which we can support and enhance this.”

South of the Border, the Ministry of Justice is considering a review by Tory peer Lord Farmer which called for prisoners to able to use iPads and Skype-style facilities to maintain contact with relatives.

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