AT first sight, proposals to install telephones in in prison cells look questionable, with private phones joining television, sports facilities and lending libraries as possible unearned privileges. Certainly, from my conversations with officers on Portland, where there are two prisons, I am clear that any such privileges should not be assumed. However, while a prison sentence is punishment, rehabilitation is essential to prevent the ‘revolving door’, which sees so many prisoners returned to jail. Justice Secretary David Gauke believes that staying in touch with families is ‘critical to achieving rehabilitation’.
In truth, communal phones are often the source of friction and violence between inmates, while smuggled mobile phones are used as payment, blackmail and punishment. Stepping up the rigorous ban on mobile phones, while allowing these actual ‘cell phones’, enables prison officers to keep control through strict security measures, with calls being recorded and numbers pre-screened. Prisoners will pay for their phone calls themselves, using phone cards. Cell phones have already been tested in 20 prisons and will be extended to a further 20 over the next two years. If that’s a success, they will be rolled out across the country.