Monday, 2 November 2015

Communicate to Rehabilitate (Guest Contribution)

The latest in a series of guest posts on this blog has been provided by Claire from the PrisonPhone team. In it she highlights the practical problems of staying in touch that face prisoners and their families and friends despite the widely acknowledged importance of maintaining family ties in rehabilitation and reducing the risks of reoffending upon release.

It’s Good (and Vital) to Talk

Phone access can be a problem
Rehabilitation has always been a hot topic when it comes to the prison system. Even the most Dickensian politician is unlikely to make a total stand against rehabilitation, though admittedly, some MPs seem to sway precariously close to the notion that prison should merely be used as an instrument of punishment.

However, in the quest to identify whether or not we need rehabilitation in our prison systems, we often forget to consider what rehabilitation actually is. How is it implemented in prisons? What does it actually consist of, in practical terms? And, the big question that we struggle to find the answer to – why is communication with loved ones not really recognised as a key aspect of the rehabilitation process?

Re-educating, Re-evaluating, Recognising?

Aids rehab
Many official prison documents outline rehabilitative measures – such as education, courses, opportunities to engage in meaningful work and counselling sessions. Indeed, there’s been a lot of focus recently on the value of education – and providing inmates with a goal to work towards has undeniable value.

However, family support is very seldom recognised as an aspect of rehabilitation, which is something that never ceases to surprise us. When we talk to inmates (both past and present), the importance of staying in contact with loved ones often comes up in conversation.

Most prisoners agree that they feel better supported after chatting to family and friends, and more focused on making a positive return to society upon their release. So, in light of this, why is communication with family so undervalued in the prison system?

The Current Situation – Distancing Families

The current situation for prisoners is fairly dire. It’s common practice for inmates to be moved from prison to prison on a regular basis, often with no notice, and in many cases this means being located a considerable distance from family and friends.

When this occurs, phone communication becomes especially important. However, in some prisons opportunities for phone conversations are incredibly limited. Many phones are situated within prison wings and are only available for use at certain times of the day. Often, due to staff shortages or alarms on the wings, phone calls are banned which means the inmate is unable to contact their family on that particular occasion. This is a fairly regular occurrence.

Family ties work both ways
The usual time limit on each call is between 10 and 15 minutes. This isn’t so bad if the inmate is calling a landline. In fact, this should only cost around £1.00 - £2.00, which doesn’t take up too much of an inmate’s meagre weekly allowance. However, as we all know, sometimes getting in touch with people on a landline is difficult. Unless they know the exact time you’ll be calling, it’s possible they’ll be out, at work, picking up the children or doing one of many other tasks that take them out of the house.

A call to a mobile phone is a far more reliable option, but is currently impractical for most prisoners, due to financial constraints. In the current prison phone system, a mere eight minute call to a mobile phone can cost over £3.00, while a longer call is likely to use up a substantial portion of the prisoner’s weekly spending allowance which is also needed to purchase toiletries and other necessities.

Greater Distance, Greater Isolation

Communicating can cut tension
Without the necessary communication with family and friends, prisoners quickly begin to feel isolated, unsupported and out of touch with the world outside. This is precisely where the problem lies. Once an inmate starts to feel distanced from their family, their hometown, their society – that’s when they start to struggle to rehabilitate successfully. The thought of returning to ‘normal’ life becomes harder to imagine, because they are regularly being denied the right to maintain contact with that normal life – and it starts to become an abstract concept.

In light of this, it is unsurprising that so many prisoners report feeling isolated, depressed and, in some instances, suicidal. After all, what do most of us do when we’re feeling down, or struggling with life? We talk to those around us, and we seek comfort. In prison, finding the right person to talk to is a lot more complicated. We believe, if the government wants to improve rehabilitation and reduce rates of reoffending, it’s important to address this key issue.

Government Priorities?

A recent government document ‘Reoffending and Rehabilitation’ discusses rehabilitation in depth, identifying methods such as ‘payment by results’ (rewarding inmates for good behaviour), providing ‘meaningful and productive work’, and helping inmates to resettle in the community after their sentence is served (which is certainly a start!).

However, at no point is the issue of family support mentioned. Although we could find government documents outlining support for families and friends of inmates, nowhere could we find evidence of any document relating to the prisoners themselves – and the importance of family support whilst they’re in prison.

PrisonPhone offers a way for prisoners to enjoy cheaper tariffs when calling mobiles. The system is secure, reliable and in no way affects the current prison pay phone security. To find out more about the plans Prison Phone offer please visit the Prison Phone price plans page online (here).



  1. The cost of phone calls from prison is extortionate. The MoJ Must be getting a kickback of some sort to keep phone call prices so artificially inflated. Puzzles me why no one has put in a legal challenge for discrimination against the MoJ for this. I suspect that govt views family and friends of those inside as fellow criminals so is not bothered about them and tries to pretend they don't exist despite stating in various PSO/PSI's the importance of family contact for prisoners. If the govt truly wants to rehabilitate prisoners they need a root and branch reorganisation of the entire system from police through to courts through to prisons so that the system works far better than currently. Unfortunately the establishment (police, courts, NOMS) will fiercely resist any and all attempts to do this so change on a meaningful scale will never happen.

    I'd also note that US jails allow prisoners to email family and receive emails from them (cheaper than calls) so it is obviously possible to have a secure system for this. But then we have a corrupt and useless system that can't even get the virtual campus working in many prisons so unfortunately emailing is a long way off.

    Many private prisons have phones in each cell which makes it easier for prisoners to call at times convenient for friends and family although no less expensive so there is no reason why this couldn't be done in all prisons in the UK

    1. Thanks for your comments. I definitely agree with your analysis of the high cost of using prison pay phones. It does penalise those prisoners who don't have either their own money or supportive family sending regular cash, especially those who are elderly, unemployed or disabled.

      The pay phones are a lifeline for those who can't read or write easily (or at all), but the sheer cost can be prohibitive on an average weekly income of £8-12 - out of which pretty much all toiletries etc need to be purchased from the canteen.

      Sending e-mails to prisoners is now generally possible via external pay services such as E-mail a Prisoner, but not many prisons have an e-mail reply service yet. I regularly e-mail friends who are still inside and I've yet to have any correspondence not delivered (although the speed can vary).

      One of my friends is currently in a private sector prison and he does have a pay phone in his cell. This does make calling family and friends much easier as he can phone out whoever he isn't at work. It also means that there are no queues on the wings to use pay phones during what little association they still get these days. However, he did have to purchase the phone handset (a cheap one the prison buys in bulk), but when a prisoner is discharged or transferred the phone stays and is then resold to another inmate! I think that is a very nice little earner in a Cat-B local which has constant movement of prisoners through!

      The prison phone game is a racket and while it remains a monopoly prisoners will continue to be rinsed. In the USA the penny (or cent) seems to have finally dropped and they appear to be taking action to derail the lucrative gravy train that has been rolling far too long!

  2. How often are prisoners allowed to make phone calls? My partner has recently gone to prison and I am so deeply worried about the lack of contact we will have and the detrimental outcome this will have on our relationship. I've been told about a website where you can pay to send emails to prisoners? Any help and guidance you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Thanks for your question. It really depends on the individual prison's daily 'regime' (timetable). In theory, wing pay phones are accessible during association. However, if there are staff shortages or alarms on other wings, association is often cancelled, so the chance to call will be lost for that day. It can be very frustrating for inmates and can cause violence in extreme cases.

      If your partner was in a private sector prison then many of these do have in cell pay phones (see comment above this). However, in the public sector jails there are only usually two or three phones per landing and given the current overcrowding the queues can be very lengthy, with some bullies trying to push in. Also association is the very limited time available to have a shower, visit the library, take exercise in the open air, visit the gym etc - so it can be unrealistic to expect a phone call every day, not to mention the high costs.

      The comment below this answer should give you all the information you need to sort out an account with the E-mail a Prisoner service. I use this myself and it does make communication much easier for families and friends, although the reply service isn't widely available yet. I hope that this helps with your query. Please feel free to ask any questions.

  3. Google email a prisoner you will get all the information you want i hope this helps,

    How Email a Prisoner works
    Email a Prisoner works and works well. However, we wouldn't be able to operate our service if it were not for the assistance and co-operation of the Prison Service and prison staff.

    You can send messages to a prisoner via this website, it takes only a few minutes to sign up and, the message gets delivered to the prison rapidly.

    Our sophisticated systems allow you to write an email, press 'send' and sit back in the knowledge the email will be delivered safely, securely & ready for delivery to the prison of your choice. Your message is printed inside the prison and will be included in the daily mail delivery. From all corners of the World you can now stay in contact with prisoners, all for 35p per message

    The Email a Prisoner service is constantly being improved and some of the developments we are currently investigating are: the ability of receiving messages back from prisoners; as well as on-going improvements.

    We are also looking to increase the portfolio of services that we offer to prisoner friends and families to make coping with a loved one being away from home easier.

    1. Thanks for your contribution. I think that answers the person's question.

      Is there any news on the progress with the pre-paid e-mail reply service yet? I did try to use it via HMP Lincoln and when then informed it wasn't yet available.

  4. Are you people insane? You are talking about people who deprived innocent people of life. If someone killed your son or daughter, would you still be happily talking about how they had probation? Probation doesn't stop anyone from doing anything. You need a free five minutes in order to kill someone, no more. You do realize they are in prison to be punished, right? As for their families…in my experience most of those families are GLAD the person went to jail. Their kids are not waiting for dads return with glee. Trust me.

    1. Are you that ignorant that you actually think every prisoner has killed someone? You silly cow at a guess I say you have absolutely no REAL knowledge of our justice system other that what's in the tabloids

    2. Spot on. I visit visit mate inside along with his girl friend. We get this kind of attitude from people outside who believe just what's in the press red tops. Our support has helped him so much. And he has gone in the help others inside. So other families gain to.

  5. Dear marina

    Note I do not show you the respect of capitalising your name, in the UK people get sent to prison for being unable to pay their council tax or tv licence, as well as the many many laws we have. So as I will agree there are a few nasty nut jobs out there, you will find a significant minority ware the uniform. Educate yourself before you become pray