In-cell Phones in UK Prisons

Some of you may have seen this sort of report on televison or in the newspapers:

The installation of in-cell phones in UK prisons, in this article and others, is justified on various grounds such as improved security and to reduce the use of mobile phones in prisons. All of the reasons stated may be totally laudable. However, a couple of important facts are missing. When I arrived at HMP High Down, in-cell phones were already installed and this was my first experience of them. It should be stated, clearly, that these phones can only be used for outgoing calls. We still do not have a situation whereby a loved one can contact an inmate, even for an emercgency!

I was amused and somewhat distressed a few weeks later, when providing input into a survey, to be asked to rate the advantage of these phones in terms of confidentiality. This question demonstrates clearly that the good souls, and I mean’good’ sincerely, that were enquiring had not considered the effect of these phones in normal B Cat conditions where  two inmates are obliged to share a cell. Confidentiality disappears entirely when compared to the phones on the landing. One can no longer talk to one’s wife or girlfriend intimately, for example, as one would using a landing phone. These phones can, therefore, become a source of conflict and insecurity.

A well-meaning, logical person might suggest, that for those intimate calls, that the inmate should step outside in the corridor to make the call. That highlights the omitted justification for installing in-cell phones: no longer do the prison officers have to unlock the prisoner so that he can use the telephone! In other words, it is like having a shower facilities in cells. In-cell shower facilities are a rare privilege and they do mean that one can be sure of gettting a shower every day. But they also mean that there is no need to unlock the cell to give the inmate access to the showers. Better in-cell facilities  allow the inmates to be locked up for longer periods!

In reality, for the inmate in a single cell, the availability of a telephone is a tremendous benefit, even accepting the restrictions on use which are not totally covered in these articles. For example, there are periods during the day and night when the service is not available. However, my main concern is that we should not gloss over the problem of overcrowding  and the tension cause by shared facilities such as in-cell phones.

That is the sort of detail that I wish to give to this debate.

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