Prisoners to get personal telephones in £10.5m block

CELLS inside a new £10.5 million block at Saughton Prison are to be fitted with showers and personal telephones.

The new amenities will be the first of their kind in Britain, and are thought to be earmarked for prisoners awaiting release, it was reported today.

The personal telephones are designed to cut down on prisoner disputes over the communal payphones in the existing blocks.

Senior prison officers are said to believe putting phones in the cells at the Edinburgh jail would remove the risk of fights breaking out as convicts queue to use payphones.

The news has come in for criticism from Tory justice spokesman Bill Aitken, who fears that the plans could pose a security risk. He said: "I would be very unhappy about the installation of telephones.

"I am surprised from a security point of view that there should be this easy access to phones. Many a drug dealer has been able to maintain his trade by telephone and this has to be guarded against."

A spokesman for Scottish justice minister Kenny MacAskill declined to comment, saying the matter was an issue for the Scottish Prison Service.

Prison chiefs reportedly said the new phones would operate in the same way as the shared phones.

Officers will still be able to monitor calls and the phones would be switched off at certain times, including at night, and prisoners who get into trouble could have their phone privileges withdrawn.

Phone calls will still have to be paid for with a prisoner phone card. The pay-as-you-talk phonecards are regularly bartered and traded as currency by prisoners looking for goods and services from other convicts.

The value of regular contact to the outside world was evidenced in March this year when it was revealed that 748 illicit mobile phones were discovered in Scotland's jails in 2007 – a 32 per cent rise on the previous year.

Convicted murderer James DeMarco, 18, used a mobile last year to instruct an accomplice to attack a man he suspected of dating his ex-girlfriend, and listened to the attack take place over the phone.

The prison service has pledged to continue to use new technology to track down and seize prisoners' mobiles.

A Scottish Prison Service spokesman confirmed officials were considering the scheme.

He added: "The new modern accommodation at Edinburgh prison will have full hygiene facilities. No decision on the full in-cell specifications has been made."

The new three-storey hall, which will have 94 cells and space for 116 inmates, is due to be finished in December.

In response to reports that the hall will be used by murderers and rapists, prison bosses said they have yet to decide who will be given access to the new amenities.

Most prison cells in Scotland are fitted with very basic amenities such as a sink and toilet. The conditions and the condemnation of the prisoner cleaning practices known as "slopping out" have fallen foul of human rights legislation, and prisoners have secured nearly 5m compensation where a court has ruled their rights have been breached.

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