• Should we be giving prisoners access to the internet?

    Last week the Liberal Democrat’s justice spokesperson, Christine Jardine, said that the party will propose that prisoners will be given internet access. This is an interesting debate as it goes without saying that we now live in IT world and there are huge educational, social and research benefits to the internet.

    The rehabilitation of prisoners is proven to be more successful with significant reduction of recidivism rates when strong ties are maintained to the local community, family and the outside world generally. The internet is now a massive part of our lives with most people using it to facilitate their daily activities. However, would a lack of knowledge of how to use the internet and social media impact a prisoner’s ability to lead an honest and law-abiding life on release? It can be argued that many individuals function within our community when they have limited reading and writing skills, let alone computer knowledge, and do not succumb to criminal activity.

    Prisoners are currently provided with reading, writing, numeracy and computer skills classes within the education curriculum provided in prison and these are more likely to aid the ability to gain employment on release than an ability to use the internet. That said, the world of job ads in local papers and shop windows is pretty much gone, and having the ability to search the recruitment websites would be a distinct advantage.

    However, the associated risks and additional resources needed to provide prisoners with internet access are significant and this suggestion by Ms Jardine evidences naivety as to the day to day activities in a prison. Prisoners are incarcerated due to dishonesty, a lack of respect for rules, greed and selfishness. It is a daily battle for staff to manage the bullying, intimidation and constant scheming to undermine or bypass rules for their own personal gain. If provided access to the internet, even restricted as directed by Ms Jardine, it is likely that eventually a means of circumventing controls will be found, especially given the resources that some of these criminals have in the outside world. This will then permit illicit contact with criminal colleagues, information on building weapons, effecting an escape, obtaining or manufacturing drugs and even psychological methods of manipulation to use on staff.

    The Prison Service is unlikely to be provided with the ongoing resources to be able to effectively manage and monitor this from a technological and staffing perspective. Gaps cannot afford to be left as this can ultimately impact the safety of staff and the prison community. Currently telephone calls and mail go through a censoring process which is an extremely resource heavy activity and the introduction of monitoring internet use will add further pressure to the budgetary issues.    Additional consideration and a level of realism as to who are in our prisons and what actually goes on within is needed before introducing such proposals.