Interference with wireless telegraphy in prisons etc

Part of Prisons and Courts Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:45 pm ar 29 Mawrth 2017.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Justice) 2:45, 29 Mawrth 2017

I beg to move amendment 29, in clause 21, page 19, line 34, at end insert—

‘(8) Before this section comes into force the Secretary of State shall—

(a) carry out a review of arrangements for prisoners to make telephone calls, the cost of such arrangements, the benefits of such arrangements, the level of charges to prisoners and options for providing an improved and more affordable service, and

(b) lay a report before Parliament containing the Secretary of State’s conclusions as a result of the review.”

This amendment requires a review of prison phone arrangements.

The reason for the amendment is that everybody accepts that when somebody is in prison they need to be able to communicate with their families. We recognise that mobile phones have also caused problems. In 2015, nearly 17,000 mobile phones and SIM cards were found in prisons in England and Wales. That was an increase from around 10,000 in 2014 and 7,500 in 2013. Since October 2015, data have been collated differently, so that direct comparisons cannot be made.

In 2016, there was a total of 8,813 reported incidents of mobile phone finds and 4,067 reported incidents of SIM card finds. Section 1 of the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Act 2012 already allows the Secretary of State to authorise governors to interfere with wireless telegraphy to disrupt unlawful mobile phone use. Clause 21 would allow the Secretary of State to authorise PCPs—for example, telecoms and internet service providers—to interfere with wireless telegraphy in prisons.

The Serious Crime Act 2015 makes provision for prison staff or the police to apply to the courts for a telecommunications restriction order, to require a mobile phone network to stop the use of a phone remotely. Regulations under the Act came into force on 3 August 2016.

Fundamentally, the clause seeks to provide PCPs with greater independence to conduct interference. Limiting access to mobile phones is necessary. However, a central plank of rehabilitation is ensuring prisoners have sufficient controlled contact with the outside world. In discussion with former prisoner officers, we were told that a lack of access to telephones was a major cause of disturbances in prisons.

The Prison Reform Trust has stated that access to telephones is limited and relatively expensive, hindering rehabilitation. It has suggested establishing a mandatory minimum level of access to telephones. The health charity, Change Grow Live, said:

“We recognise that the use of mobile phones within the prison estate can have negative security implications, but we do believe this could be better managed by ensuring there is wider access to telephones within prisons, to enable prisoners to maintain contact with friends and families.”

The Royal College of Psychiatrists states:

“The Joint Commissioning Panel guidance for forensic mental health services in the NHS…recommends that family support and maintenance and re-establishment of family relationships should occur where possible.”

The Howard League states:

“Steps to increase access to legal methods of communication in prisons would have a much greater impact. Ensuring that prisoners can frequently access affordable payphones with a reasonable amount of privacy to make calls to their families would reduce the demand for mobile phones in prison.”

The Public and Commercial Services Union states:

“It is worth noting that these reforms are long overdue and unions have been arguing for this issue to be addressed for many years.”

We are asking for improved, controlled access to telephones, which will have the benefit of helping the prisoners and, we hope, lead to fewer mobile phones being found illegally in prisons.