Reform Scotland


Think tank calls for pilot scheme to put landline phones in cells

Reform Scotland, the independent, non-party think tank, has published a new report – Reforming Prison. The report aims to contribute to the debate on how to better rehabilitate prisoners, and carries a number of policy recommendations.

One of the central recommendations is focussed on expanding the opportunities for prisoners to maintain contact with their families. The lack of contact between prisoners and families can have a detrimental effect on both the prisoner and the family.

Evidence suggests that maintaining close family ties can help prevent reoffending.  However, 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.  Even if travel and transport are not an impediment, prison rules also place restrictions on the frequency and duration of visits.  As a result, contact can be limited to:

  • Emails, which are printed out and delivered to prisoners with the mail
  • Restricted-use telephone lines, outside cells

Central to Reform Scotland’s recommendation is a pilot scheme putting landline phones in prisoners’ cells. This already happens in some prisons in England and Wales, and is considered to be an important tool in reducing reoffending. A National Audit Office report from 2013 also highlighted that it could also contribute to prisoner safety.

Commenting, Reform Scotland’s Research Director, Alison Payne, said:

“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 reoffending, as well as helping those left outside, then it is something that needs to be encouraged.  Reform Scotland believes that there should be some pilots looking at innovative ideas for increasing contact, such as having landline phones in prison cells.  

“We challenge the Scottish Prison Service and the Scottish Government to be bold and innovative as we try to close the revolving door of reoffending.”

Nancy Loucks, Chief Executive of Families Outside, the charity which works to support the families of prisoners, said:

“Imprisonment fractures families. It separates people from the things most likely to prevent them from offending, such as housing, employment, and social support, increasing the risk of family breakdown, relapse, and homelessness. Community-based measures are designed to address the reasons behind someone’s offending while maintaining their links to their communities – something short prison sentences simply cannot do.”