More prisoners to get phones in cells in drive to cut violence

£10m move aimed at reducing queues for public phones and demand for illicit mobiles

A prison

Mobile phones are banned, so many prisoners queue for public phones on the landings, which can act as a trigger for violence and fuel demand for illicit mobiles.
Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

Thousands more prisoners will be able to make phone calls from their cells as part of government plans to reduce violence and reoffending.

In July, the government announced plans to install in-cell phones in 20 prisons in England and Wales to tackle the flow of illegal mobiles and reduce tension on wings.

Under a further £10m roll-out, funded by additional money allocated to prisons in the budget, the number of prisons with phones in cells will rise to 50 by March 2020.

Many prisoners queue for public phones on the landings, which can act as a trigger for violence and fuel demand for illicit mobile phones, the Ministry of Justice said. It hopes the expansion of in-cell phones will also reduce the rates of reoffending, which is estimated to cost £15bn a year.


The current male and female prison population is 84,255, having almost doubled in 25 years. Analysis suggests jails in England and Wales are holding more than 10,000 prisoners than they were built for, with two-thirds of prisons classified as overcrowded.


Currently at record levels, with 42,837 incidents – an average of 117 a day – documented during the year to September, an increase of 12%. Already it looks like it will be higher this year with 11,904 incidents recorded during the last quarter, equal to 130 a day. Eight inmates a day will be admitted to hospital. There is a suicide in prison every five days.


Again, at record levels with 28,165 incidents documented during the 12 months to September 2017, a 12% increase. Of these, 7,828 were assaults on staff . Already at unprecedented levels, the rate continues to escalate. During the last quarter of 2017, another record high was set with assaults rising to 86 a day.

Staffing numbers

The Ministry of Justice is now increasing prison officer numbers following dramatic cuts. Latest figures reveal a rise from 17,955 in October 2016 to 19,925 in December 2017. In 2010 there were 27,650.

Reoffending rates

The number of adults reconvicted within a year of release stands at 44%. For those serving sentences of less than 12 months, this increases to 59%.

The expansion of in-cell phone aims to also improve rehabilitation by allowing prisoners to make calls in private at a time that fits with their families, thus helping to maintain ties. Last year, a report by Lord Farmer (pdf) found that good family relationships were “indispensable” to the set of changes the government plans for prisons.

The justice secretary, David Gauke, said: “At this time of year more than any other we’re reminded of the importance of family, and there can be few groups that this applies to more than prisoners.

“In-cell telephones provide a crucial means of allowing prisoners to build and maintain family relationships, something we know is fundamental to their rehabilitation.

“Introducing them to more prisons is a recognition of the contribution I believe in-cell telephones make to turning prisons into places of decency where offenders have a real chance to transform their lives.”

The MoJ added that the phones also provided easier access to support services such as the Samaritans and Mind.

Authorities have identified the illegal use of mobiles as one of the most significant threats faced by prisons. In the 12 months to March, there were 10,643 incidents where mobile phones were found in prisons, a 15% increase on the previous year.

The government has also introduced body scanners and improved searching techniques to stop mobiles getting in.

All calls on the in-cell phones are recorded and can only be made to a small number of preapproved numbers. Prisoners will continue to pay to make calls, the MoJ added.

If a prisoner is suspected of using the phone for criminal activity, their calls can be monitored and governors have the power to remove phones from those who have misused them.

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