Young prisoners to have phones installed in their cells under pilot

Written by Emily Woods on 20 June 2019 in News

The Scottish Government has asked the prison service to implement a pilot of in-cell phones across Polmont.

Peter Macdiarmid/PA

Young offenders at Polmont Young Offenders Institute (YOI) could have landline phones installed inside their prison cells, under a new Scottish Government initiative to address the mental health needs of inmates.

Justice secretary Humza Yousaf also announced routine strip-searching of inmates aged under 18 has been stopped “as a priority”. He said the impact of the changes would be evaluated after one year.

The proposal is in response to a HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland (HMIPS) review of mental health services for young people entering and in custody at Polmont YOI, following the 2018 deaths of Kate Allen and William Lindsay.

The review, released in May, made 80 recommendations including minimising social isolation for those newly on remand, improved risk management between agencies on young people entering and leaving custody, and the development of a “bespoke suicide and self-harm strategy”.

Yousaf told Holyrood yesterday: “I can confirm that I have asked the Scottish Prison Service to explore the options for implementing a pilot of in-cell phones across HMYOI Polmont, with necessary controls, of course, in place.”

“At present, prisoners in Scotland can access telephones in communal areas at certain times only. In-cell phones have the potential to contribute to prisoners’ wellbeing by making family contact significantly easier,” Yousaf said.

“They also have the benefit of improving access to national helpline services and technology can offer the potential to develop telehealth services and supports for well-being in prisons.

“We will explore the options available as we take forward a pilot, but we will ensure that the prison service retains control over the phone numbers prisoners can access and the ability to monitor calls.”

He said a roundtable with “key partner agencies” will be held before the end of the year, to review progress.

Reform Scotland research director Alison Payne welcomed Yousaf’s announcement, saying he deserved “great credit for putting us on a path to the right policy”.

Payne said evidence showed “maintaining family links, where appropriate, can reduce reoffending”.

“Evidence from elsewhere has shown that in-cell phones not only help contribute towards rehabilitation, but they have also had a positive impact on addressing prison safety and reducing self-harm,” she said.

“The Scottish Government’s announcement today will help to reduce reoffending, reintroduce short-term prisoners into life and work, and keep family networks strong.”

She said the pilot was “a good first step” but hoped phones would eventually be rolled out across other prisons in Scotland, like they have in England and Wales.

A similar initiative was introduced in England and Wales last year, with 20 jails installing in-cell phones to improve rehabilitation and stem the flow of illegal mobiles, The Guardian reported. 

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