People in Scottish Prisons reported to be receiving phones and tablets to maintain family contact

Families Outside welcomes the news suggesting that people in prison will soon have access to secure mobile phones and tablets to facilitate contact with their families, though official confirmation of this has not yet been announced.

Families Outside has long argued for greater use of technology to support family contact with family members in prison. We welcome the commitments made by the Scottish Government and SPS to consider urgently how technology could be rolled out to aid family contact at this time and will support this process in any way we can.

Quality contact with family has long been identified as a key to stability in prisons as well as to reduced risk of reoffending on release.

With prison visits currently suspended to prevent the spread of COVID-19, any efforts to relieve the anxiety of families over the welfare of their loved ones are welcome. Means to connect families virtually through video visits and in-cell telephones are something Families Outside has promoted for some time. These measures were also recommended last year by the Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland to protect the mental health of young people at HMYOI Polmont.

Most people in prison have to queue for public phones in the halls, which can be a trigger for violence and can put people in greater risk of contracting Covid-19.

Secure telephones, tablets, and laptops have been used successfully in prisons in Northern Ireland, Wales, and Canada (among others) for many years, and UNICEF recently funded the installation of such measures to support families of people in prisons in Eastern Europe.

Secure phones and tablets will have limited capacity, solely for use in maintaining family ties and with restricted potential for other uses.

Prof Nancy Loucks, Chief Executive of Families Outside said:

“If such measures help to keep staff, prisoners, and their families safe from the spread of Coronavirus, they are a positive way forward for Scottish prisons.”

“The use of phones and tablets are an essential tool in combating isolation, sustaining vital links with their families, and an aid to resettlement. Secure phones can also help to tackle the flow of illegal mobiles and thus reduce tension in what is becoming a very tense environment.”

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