Inmates are to get phones in their cells in England and Wales as part of a government plan to curb violence in prisons and reduce demand for smuggled devices.
The scheme, already in place at 20 prisons, is to be extended to a further 20 over the next two years at a cost of £7m, Justice Secretary David Gauke announced on Tuesday.
The move is part of a £30m package of measures aimed at improving safety, security and decency in jails.
Most prisoners currently queue for public phones which can be a trigger for violence, the government said, and fuel demand for illicit mobile phones.
The plan will be subject to strict security measures, with all calls - which will continue to be paid for by prisoners - being recorded. Phone numbers must also be on an approved list.
The proposal is based on Lord Farmer’s report last year that found good family relationships are “indispensable” to the government’s prison reform plans.
Improving prisoners’ ability to maintain ties with relatives after they are sentenced is seen as a key factor in reducing reoffending.
In a speech at an event hosted by the Centre for Social Justice, Gauke said: “Decency also extends to how we treat prisoners – fairly and consistently, with time out of their cells, activities, and the opportunity to maintain family relationships.
“As Lord Farmer made clear in his ground-breaking review last year, supportive relationships are critical to achieving rehabilitation.”
One of the 20 prisons that already have in-cell phones, HMP Altcourse in Liverpool was praised earlier this year for “bucking the trend of rising violence”.
The BBC reported that the government’s initiative has been welcomed by John McLaughlin, director of the privately-run Oakwood in Wolverhampton, which also permits calls from some of its cells.
He said: “Anything that enhances the contact between a prisoner and his family or loved ones is vital.
“I’ve worked in prisons where telephony is available on the landings, there’s a queuing system, people can’t get the contact with their loved ones at the appropriate time of day.”
Graham Towl, Professor of Criminal Psychology at Durham University, also praised the move, writing on Twitter on Tuesday: “This is a welcome step and potentially key to contributing to suicide prevention in prisons.”
As part of a wider package of measures, ministers will also unveil a new intelligence system for assessing the risks posed by offenders with every inmate allocated a “risk rating”. It will rate their chances of taking part in violence, escapes, disturbances and gang activity.
The digital tool is being extended across the prison service having already proved effective in 16 jails.
More than half of the £30m budget will be spent on repairing aging prisons.