Difficulties rolling out mobile phones for prisoners scheme

The scheme was announced ten weeks ago to support the mental health of inmates after visits were banned due to coronavirus.

Mobile phones: Prisoners will have no internet access. Pixabay
Mobile phones: Prisoners will have no internet access.

Mobile phones have been issued to some prisoners almost ten weeks after the scheme was announced by justice secretary Humza Yousaf.

In April, Yousaf said mobiles would “help support the mental health and wellbeing of those in custody” after visits were banned due to coronavirus lockdown.

He said this would happen “as soon as possible” but concerns have been raised about why it is taking so long.

A Scottish Prison Service (SPS) spokesman told STV News the first handsets were issued last week at Cornton Vale women’s prison and Polmont, for young offenders.

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The SPS said it is working with network provider BT to overcome technical difficulties but that a phased rollout was always planned.

More are being distributed this week at Castle Huntly, the country’s only open prison and Dumfries, which houses up to 60 inmates.

Three years ago, new technology was introduced in a bid to block mobile phone signals in prisons due to the large number of illicit devices.

An SPS spokesman that these measures were one of the difficulties they faced in launching the new initiative.

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The Scottish Government — responding to concerns raised by STV News — said the rollout of handsets had been “complex and challenging”.

A spokesperson added: “The suspension of prison visits as a result of the pandemic has affected both those in custody and their loved-ones.

“Along with the introduction of virtual video conferencing visits, by providing mobile phones with appropriate safeguards, we can help support the wellbeing and mental health of all those affected by imprisonment.

“The rollout of mobile phones is a complex and challenging project. This will be taken forward as quickly as possible, and the first phones were issued last week in some establishments.”

Prisoners will only be able to call numbers on their existing call list and they can be monitored.

The handests don’t have internet access and can’t be used to send texts or receive incoming calls.

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