By July 2018 £7 million had been spent on providing prisons with ‘in cell’ phones in response to Lord Farmer’s Review on reoffending and his finding that family relationships are the “golden thread’ that leads to prisoner rehabilitation and reduces reoffending. Another 10 million will be spent in the next year on installing more landline phones in 30 more prisons to smash the reoffending rate.
Cost of reoffending is £15 Billion a year
Reoffending costs the state £15 billion pounds a year, 46% of all prisoners and 60% of short termers reoffend. In 2017 the Farmer Review looked closely at preventing reoffending. It found connections with family and friends to be the most important elements in reducing reoffending. Research by the Ministry of Justice found a staggering 39% of prisoners who are able to keep in good contact with friends and family do not reoffend. One of the best ways of doing this is by providing affordable ‘in cell’ calls for prisoners. Landlines have already been provided to 20 prisons such has HMP Wayland, HMP High Down and HMP Lowdham Grange, however the cost of the calls to mobiles remains high.
Mobile phones, the scourge of modern prisons
Mobile phones are said to be the biggest risk to discipline and a decent and secure environment in prisons in England and Wales and are prohibited. There has been a massive increase in the smuggling of mobile phones into prisons in recent years. In 2017, 15,000 mobile phones were confiscated, that is nearly one for every six prisoners, a 56% rise over previous years. A mobile phone in prison is priceless, some as small as 7cm are smuggled in through various channels.
The prison service believes mobile phones are linked to the influx of drugs such as ‘Spice’ and to other contraband. Mobile phones enable people to continue criminal activity on the outside and on the inside, they put vulnerable prisoners at risk when high status inmates need someone to look after the phone and are used for extortion and intimidation in and out of the prison.
What do the prisoners say?
There are however thousands of prisoners, confirmed by a 2013 report by the Ministry of Justice, that 4 out of 5 prisoners use the mobile phones to keep in contact with family and friends. Even the prison officers do not disagree with this fact. Prisoners prefer mobile phones for several reasons, citing that to get set up with the prison PIN phone system is very difficult and there can be many delays, the phones are on the landings and little privacy is available, the hours inmates can call can be very inconvenient to people on the outside, and if you only have an hour when you can phone things on the landing can be very tense, even violent, when everyone wants to use the phone. Then finally it is the cost of using the prison pay phones, a prisoner can spend their entire weeks ‘wages ‘on a half hour call. Mobile phone bills are often paid by those on the outside and are generally much cheaper.
Mental health and suicide are huge risks for prisoners and connection with families is a significant factor in reducing this and could also alert authorities to prisoners at risk. When a prisoner knows his family is safe and that they are still thinking of him, still love him and are awaiting his release a massive burden is taken off him. He feels connected and able to think about rehabilitation. Cheap connection to family by phone is essential to prisoners’ wellbeing.
‘In Cell’phones rolled out to 30 more prisons to reduce reoffending by 2020
‘In cell’ phones alleviate a lot of mental health and security issues as well as reduce the market for illegal mobile phones. They increase security and help make prisons a decent place to live. To continue this, the government is committed to spending another £10 million to install ‘in cell’ phones in 30 more prisons by 2020 bringing the total to 50. The MoJ believes the new phones can easily be policed as only a few numbers are permitted; they can be monitored if necessary and are not easily open to corruption. They will further the MoJs vision of prisons as a decent place to live and a place to begin the road to rehabilitation. However for the phones to be fully effective there needs to be a low cost solution to the charges the phones will still incur. Services such as PrisonPhone can offer a vital lifeline here.