Should prisoners be allowed mobile phones?
By Joe Harker
Justice Secretary David Gauke has said as many prisoners as possible should be given phones in their cells. He believes giving prisoners the ability to make phonecalls from the privacy of their cells is a "real game changer" in better behaviour and rehabilitation. He said: "All the evidence is pointing towards in-cell telephony helping, so its wider use, I think, makes a lot of sense."
The phones prisoners received would only be allowed to call a series of pre-approved numbers and prisoners would have to pay for their calls. Gauke cited German prisons as an example to follow, saying that prisoners who have access to phones in their cells were found to be better behaved and less likely to reoffend. The most successful prison systems in the world are the ones where the focus is on rehabilitation.
It is hoped that this measure will also help combat the rife smuggling of contraband into prison. Hundreds of prison officers have been sacked for helping bring drugs, weapons and phones into prisons.
Smuggled phones are valuable commodities in prison and some use them to continue criminal activities from their cells. The BBC reports that smuggling rings with drugs and weapons have been organised by inmates with access to phones, while some have used them to order murders. The phones Gauke is proposing to introduce to cells will have severe restrictions on who can be called and will primarily be used to maintain regular contact with families.
Inmates having access to phones may also help reduce violence in prisons. Most prisoners have to queue for public phones in prisons and fights can break out as a result. Ending a situation where violence is common could help make prisons safer.
This scheme has already been trialled in some UK prisons. HMP Altcourse in Liverpool allows prisoners to wear their own clothes and have phones in their cells and was praised for "bucking the trend" of rising violence in the UK prison system.
There has been opposition to the plans from some with the Daily Mail criticising the measures as "soft justice". Opponents to the scheme believe prisons are no longer harsh enough to be an effective deterrent to committing crimes, fearing that prison is not scary enough to make criminals think twice before reoffending.
However, the current Justice Secretary is aiming for prisons to be a place of rehabilitation where inmates can get their lives back on track and be less likely to turn back to crime.