Party leaders clash over prisoners’ use of mobile phones

Written by Margaret Taylor on 8 November 2021 in News
News

Scottish Tories call for pandemic measure to be revoked, but SNP chief Sturgeon declines to do so

Credit: Ichigo121212 from Pixabay

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has called on the government to take back the 10,000 mobile phones handed out to prisoners during the pandemic after reports that nine prisoners have died from drugs overdoses in HMP Shotts this year.

During the Scottish Parliament’s First Minister’s Questions Ross said prisoners were able to access drugs due to “unhackable phones” handed out by the government being hacked, enabling prisoners to organise drug deals.

“This is an obvious abuse, will she [first minister Nicola Sturgeon] commit to removing them from Scotland’s prisons?,” he asked.

In response, Sturgeon accepted there is evidence that 7% of handsets “had been tampered with”, but said that that had been detected as a result of “robust monitoring” that allowed the issue of hacked phones to be addressed.


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She did not commit to taking phones away from prisoners, telling Ross that it is “important to remember the context of this”, adding that phones had been handed out because prisoners were unable to have in-person contact with their families in the early days of the pandemic.

She said access to phones was seen as vital in addressing the “negative impact” the loss of contact had on prisoners and their children, as well as prison staff.

Ross’s remarks on phones came after he urged the first minister to accept Tory proposals to give Scottish prisoners photocopies of their mail rather than the originals. That call came after reports that drugs such as street valium are being soaked into letters and smuggled into prisons.

Prisoners take the drugs by smoking the paper, with shadow minister for community safety Russell Findlay saying last month that that is leading to overdoses.

Sturgeon told Ross that she is “determined to make sure [she is] open to ideas and suggestions” and to “build consensus”, but added that there are particular legal implications in terms of prisoners’ rights to be factored in when it comes to the handling of mail.

Noting that there are court judgments that deal specifically with how correspondence is dealt with, the first minister added that it is particularly important to take time to consider suggestions that could have legal implications.

 

About the author

Margaret Taylor is a journalist at PublicTechnology sister publication Holyrood, where a version of this story first appeared. She tweets as @MagsTaylorish

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