The Scottish Government and Scottish Prison Service intend to introduce mobile phones in Scotland’s prisons to maintain contact between people in custody and their families during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The move follows the suspension of visits to help protect all those within prisons, including staff, and NHS and social care workers.
It is hoped that the introduction of mobile phones, along with a range of other in cell support materials, will support the mental health and wellbeing of those in custody.
There would be security restrictions on these phones, as with the current prison landline system. Outgoing calls could be monitored and would only be possible to numbers already included in existing prisoner call lists. The phones would not be text or internet enabled or be able to receive incoming calls.
Work to introduce the phones is being prioritised, but a number of security, technical, and legal issues will need to be resolved before they are rolled out.
The Scottish Prison Service has already taken a number of steps to mitigate the impact of the suspension of visits and other social distancing measures. These include the provision of additional phone credit to all prisoners, suspension of all TV rental fees and expansion of in-cell entertainment options, facilitation of the “email a prisoner” scheme, and working with partners such as Families Outside to support families affected by the impact of the current restrictions.
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said:
“It is important that prisoners and their families are supported while the current prison visit restrictions are in place.
“Providing a mobile phone for prisoners to contact their families, along with a range of other actions we are taking, will help support the mental health and wellbeing of those in custody.
“We will make sure that the use of mobile phones in prisons is done in a way which is practical and safe – for those in custody, their families, and those in the wider community.
“The phones will be provided as soon as possible once we have resolved some outstanding issues and established the robust systems necessary to roll out and manage this new communications approach across the prison estate.”
Teresa Medhurst, Interim Chief Executive of the Scottish Prison Service said:
“COVID-19 is impacting all areas of life in Scotland, including across our prison estate. We have had to make difficult decisions in the last few weeks in order to prevent the spread of the virus and protect those living and working our prisons. These decisions have undoubtedly impacted on those in custody and their families.
“The provision of phones for those in custody is a crucial way in which can help support and maintain family contact during this time of uncertainty. Social distancing and the need to stay indoors means that everyone is turning to technology as means of maintaining vital contact and the provision of these restricted phones allow that to happen for those in our care.
“I am pleased that the Cabinet Secretary has announced these plans today and the SPS is working hard to ensure that these can be put in place as quickly as possible.”
Prison authorities around the world are taking a range of actions in response to the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak and elsewhere in the UK this also includes the supply of mobile phones in a number of prisons following the suspension of prison visits