Government urged to scrap £4m phones for prisoners policy after thousands misused

Government urged to scrap £4m phones for prisoners policy after thousands misused
Government urged to scrap £4m phones for prisoners policy after thousands misused

NICOLA Sturgeon has been urged to end the policy of giving mobile phones to prisoners.

During First Minister’s Questions, the Tory MSP Russell Findlay said the devices had been used to “order fire bombings, drug dealing and to threaten crime victims.”

Inmates were first given phones in April 2020 after visiting was suspended during the first Covid lockdown.

There were some restrictions with prisoners not able to text, access the internet or receive incoming calls.

They were supposedly "hack proof". However, last year, one prison officer at HMP Barlinnie told ITV that around a third of phones had been tampered with.

Data uncovered by the Mail on Sunday found 4,877 reported acts of misuse since the phones were introduced, averaging around five incidents a day.

In September, Glasgow's High Court heard how Robert Warnock arranged three fire-bombings in Greenock using a mobile phone he had been given access to during the pandemic.

At the time, he was serving an 11-year sentence at Shotts prison at the time for attempting to murder a woman with a meat cleaver.

Despite in-person visits resuming last year, every new prisoner is still given a phone.

Asked about the scheme during First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgen said: “At the start of the pandemic, we took the decision to provide mobile phones to those in custody to maintain vital family communication, including and perhaps especially with children during what was an incredibly challenging period and when normal visiting wasn't possible.”

Mr Findlay asked the First Minister how her government could justify the £4.12m cost at the same time as “slashing budgets for our cops, courts and prisons.”

“Money is tight, we get that. So how on earth can mobiles for prisoners at a cost of £4m and rising, be a priority?

“Taxpayers’ money should be spent on frontline services, not freebies for criminals.

“These phones have been misused nearly 5,000 times. They've been used to order fire bombings, drug dealing and to threaten crime victims.

“Prison officers tell me these SNP-issued phones are putting them in danger by fueling violence between inmates. So when, First Minister, will you bin this costly and dangerous policy?”

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that Mr Findlay was right about budgets being extremely tight.

“They're tight because of Tory economic mismanagement and Tory erosion of our budgets.

“Coming to the issue at hand, prison is, yes, about punishment, but prison should also be about rehabilitation. And it is important that we don't lose focus on that.

“The mobile phone provision which, of course I think, I'll be corrected if I'm wrong about this, but I think it's something the UK Government did as well during the pandemic, that is about ensuring connections between prisoners and families, including children which is important to rehabilitation, which is important to reducing offending and reoffending.

“So, we will continue to consider all of these issues carefully, but we will consider them in the context of a justice system that yes, punishes criminals, that is extremely important, but one that also seeks to rehabilitate those who commit crimes and reduce reoffending because that's in the overall interest of communities across the country.”