Mobile phones are strictly banned in all grades of prison in England and Wales, apart maybe from the odd experiment. But are the authorities missing something?
The recent debates about the jailing of Huhne and Pryce (BBC News, 11 March 2013) have called into question again the purpose of jail as a suitable “punishment” for offenders with some people suggesting they should instead be forced to do something for society (as a community sentence, perhaps Pryce could drive Huhne around to clean up litter in London parks for the next 6 months?).
Image from http://gizmodo.com/Cell-Lock_Up/
Hardly Bonnie and Clyde. But it got me thinking about a conversation with my brother-in-law who works in HM Prison Service and he mentioned about a new initiative to give all prisoners a phone (or more generally speaking “terminal device”) in their cells to be able to access “limited” Internet services and make personal phone calls to family – that sort of thing. He was saying about the positive rehabilitation effect it should have that would far outweigh the negative.
The point is that combined with today’s mobile technologies (such as provided by MeshDETECT) you could also use relatively cheap touch-screens to have in-cell personal devices that can deliver personalised training or educational games and keep track of prisoners. Alright that last one is a bit “Big Brother” but it should be possible to help monitor someone who might be a suicide risk for example through inbuilt motion-detection.
There are apparently plenty of problems today with smuggled mobiles and fights to get to the communal telephone on the landing in the prison which this would obviously alleviate.
There have also been objectors, most recently some quite ill-informed (technologically-wise) comments such as this, which comes from a short article in the Daily Record (Daily Record, 31 January 2013):
“It is a crazy idea as it would give prisoners the opportunity to plan and control their business on the outside.”
That depends. What is their business? If it’s illegal then why’s it not shut down?
And if it is legal, why is this such a bad thing to keep a business running that presumably employs people? It’s only when a previously eminent person like Chris Huhne goes to jail that this seems a nonsense. Of course he should be encouraged to continue any of the good things he does, just never get behind the wheel of a car again as some think he is apparently incapable of driving responsibly (The Independent, 11 March 2013). What possible good does it do society to just lock away an intelligent, capable person to make no contribution
“These guys are in there to serve time, not to be in a position to potentially plan other crimes.”
Oh dear… I thought the aim of prison was rehabilitation and showing an alternative lifestyle, through education and communication with the right people not just to “serve time”
“My big fear would be the monitoring of it.
It’s fairly cheap and simple to automate monitoring of the IP telephony through speech-recognition these days – admittedly this would be a bit difficult in Scotland perhaps but if communication is going on anyway using illegally smuggled-in mobile phones wouldn’t it be better to offer a more official method of communication that was monitored? The technology is there and storage (especially in Cloud systems) is so cheap you could record everything.
“If you put phones into every cell, it would be a nightmare. Where would the staff come from for this? You couldn’t possibly monitor it.” He added: “It seems ridiculous.”
Well, maybe it does seem ridiculous and to some people yet another example of the state giving “luxuries” to prisoners (along with their Sky TV packages and fussball tables no doubt) but why can’t we harness the power of cheap, modern tablet technologies to educate and help to prepare prisoners, especially long-term prisoners serving time a long way from home, with human contact? Or even with non-human contact in the case of educational programs that could be installed for prisoners who want to learn. The central server technology can carefully control the access, reward prisoners for achievements and generally I can see a lot of good to come out of this initiative.
If you really want to “punish” prisoners why on earth is smoking still allowed in HM Prisons?
Banning smoking as this story (The Mirror, 02 march 2013) suggests would (a) help health education and (b) be of benefit to the whole of society if those prisoners continued to stop smoking after they are released and don’t then get smoking-related diseases. Perhaps the 80% of prisoners who now smoke may be encouraged to give up and invest money in that equally addictive pastime of our generation – the mobile phone.
But that’s another story.