The government is set to spend £10m installing phones in prisoners’ cells in a bid to slash reoffending rates.
The landline phones – which allow prisoners to call a small number of pre-approved numbers – are already installed in 20 prisons in England and Wales. The latest roll-out will allow 50 prisons to have access to the system by March 2020.
Justice Secretary David Gauke said the phones, which automatically record conversations, would allow those behind bars to “build and maintain family relationships”, with prisoners able to make calls at a time which fits in with their families’ schedules.
The move follows research that showed that prisoners who receive family visits are 39% less likely to reoffend, with reoffending costing the UK £15bn each year.
It is hoped that the decision will also help to reduce rates of self-harming in prison, by providing easier access to services such as the Samaritans and MIND, as well as reducing the number of illicit mobile phones in jail.
Gauke said the addition of more in-cell phones would help turn prisons “into places of decency where offenders have a real chance to transform their lives.”
Meanwhile, prison governors will have the power to remove phones from prisoners thought to be using them for criminal activity.
Prison Reform Trust director Peter Dawson called the announcement a “big step in the right direction”.
“This is very welcome news for prisoners’ families, who are very often the key to a crime free future for people leaving prison,” he said, calling on the rest of the prison estate to follow suit.
“Access to legitimate in-cell phones can reduce tension and self-harm. It also undermines the market for illegal mobile phones in prison, and all the violence associated with it.”
The news comes a week after parliament passed new legislation allowing prisons to use interference technology to disrupt mobile phone signals behind bars and shortly after the launch of a campaign to stop prisoners being released on Fridays.
National social justice charity Nacro believes ending the practice would make a significant difference to people leaving prison and would cut reoffending rates, which have remained high over the last decade – fluctuating between 32% and 29%.
Experts say those granted freedom just before the weekend face an uphill battle to access emergency accommodation, vital prescription medicines and addiction support in just one day.
Many are left with just the £46 discharge grant every former inmate is issued with, and some ending up spending the weekend on the streets.
Ministry of Justice figures show a third of all prison releases take place on a Friday, as all inmates with scheduled release dates which fall on a Saturday, Sunday or bank holiday are brought forward.
Nacro chief executive Jacob Tas told HuffPost UK: “Stopping Friday releases would stop people going off the rails and staff on the frontline say it is the thing they would change to have a positive effect.
“Friday releases can make an already challenging day impossible and increase the likelihood that people will reoffend and fall back into bad ways.
“We believe there are immediate, simple and cost-effective steps that can be taken by the government and prison governors to ensure Friday releases are avoided.”
The Ministry of Justice is currently reviewing Friday release dates.