Phones in prison cells would help reduce reoffending

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This article by Alison Payne first appeared in The Times on 7 June 2019.

Last year nearly two thirds of all individuals sent to prison served a sentence of less than three months. Such short prison sentences offer very little opportunities for rehabilitation or training.  However, evidence suggests that maintaining close family ties can help address offending behaviour.

The vast majority of offenders will be released from prison after a very short sentence, so it is therefore vital that support networks are maintained. Unfortunately, due to distance or circumstance some family members will be unable to see or speak to their loved ones as often as they would like. This is why Reform Scotland believes we should pilot a scheme of landline phones in prisoners’ cells.

In Scotland prisoners can access communal phones at certain times. The system works on a credit basis with payment coming from the prisoner’s cash account.  Only numbers on a list approved by the prison can be phoned.

In England and Wales a number of prisons now have landline phones in cells. The numbers are restricted to the approved list but prisoners are able to phone in private – away from what can be an intimidating communal setting. Not only has the scheme has proved to not only help maintain family links and therefore contribute towards rehabilitation, it has also had a positive impact on addressing prisoner safety and reducing self-harm. 

As a result, in December the UK Government announced plans to spend £10m rolling out installation of in-cell phones into more prisons. Despite this there has been no sign of change in Scotland.

Last week Wendy Sinclair‑Gieben, chief inspector of prisons for Scotland, published her summary report on Polmont Young Offenders Institute.  It recommended that the Scottish Government and the Scottish Prison Service introduce the technology into Polmont. 

The report said: “In cell telephony allows prisoners to make contact with friends and family at any time, thereby significantly reducing tensions and providing a normalised approach to families; prisoners are able to contact their families at times of stress or domestic need as well as making use of helplines in the privacy of their own room.”

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.  In-cell phones can help in this effort, which is why I hope the Scottish Government follows Wendy Sinclair‑Gieben’s advice.