Call to give prisoners ‘more internet time’

David Strang is calling for more access to the net. Picture: Julie Bull

David Strang is calling for more access to the net. Picture: Julie Bull

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INMATES in Scotland’s jails should be given more access to the internet – despite fears that the privilege could be misused, according to HM inspector of prisons.

David Strang said there was frustration among further education colleges about the difficulties of getting prisoners online.

I know the colleges that work in prisons are really frustrated because young learners all use online learning

David Strang

Strang, a former chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police, told a conference for those working in the prison sector that it was “inevitable” inmates would eventually have access to the internet.

He said: “There are some schemes where people can send and receive emails. The fear, I think it’s an understandable one, from the Scottish Prison Service is that it will be misused. I’m surprised there’s not more access to the internet. I know the colleges that work in prisons are really frustrated because young learners all use online learning, and they end up having to print things off as they have stand-alone computers.”

Strang said he was surprised that more confidence was not placed in online protections such as fire walls.

“All our banking is done on computers and somehow we have confidence that that’s going to be kept secure,” he said. “I don’t think it will be far away, I think they should have far more access. I don’t know if it’s just people’s fear about it being misused, but I think it will come inevitably.”

While some inmates have limited internet access, it is usually confined to educational activities and receiving, but not sending, messages.

In 2012, HM Prison Kilmarnock became the first in the UK to introduce software allowing inmates to communicate with loved ones using an online messaging service.

Francis Toye, the managing director of Unilink, the firm behind the project, said: “We’ve got to allow the opportunity to apply for jobs, etc to help with their rehabilitation.

“Obviously we mustn’t allow people to have access to social media – that has to be stopped. I can’t see prisoners ever having the access that you or I might have, but they can by means of white-listed sites where security can be properly controlled.

“It will come when the population is ready for it. To be quite blunt about it, prisons are risk-averse places; progress will happen, but very slowly.”

Strang made his comments at a conference hosted by Holy­rood Magazine.

There are currently around 7,500 people in Scotland’s prisons, around 400 of whom are young offenders.

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