The introduction of secure phones given to prisoners following the temporary cancellation of jail visits due to the COVID-19 outbreak can be a “lifeline” for inmates, a campaigner has said.

East Anglian Daily Times: Campaigner Faith Spear Picture: KJ SPEARCampaigner Faith Spear Picture: KJ SPEAR (Image: Copyright 2016 KJ Spear. This image may be used unmodified in print and online on strict condition the photo is credited as foll)

A total of 900 secure phone handsets will be given to prisoners at 55 jails, allowing risk-assessed inmates to speak to a small number of pre-authorised contacts.

Strict measures will ensure the phones are not misused with calls time limited and monitored closely and they will not have internet access, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said.

The handsets will also include measures to prevent non-secure SIM cards being used, the MoJ added.

MORE: Should ‘low risk’ prisoners be released to aid coronavirus battle?Faith Spear, prison commentator and campaigner from Ipswich, said: “With the cancellation of prison visits, reduced regimes and inevitably more time spent locked in their cells, those incarcerated may feel very isolated.

“The introduction of secure phone handsets can be a lifeline to vulnerable prisoners with the access to speaking to family members from their cell.

“Phones are not a perk or a luxury but an essential tool in combating isolation, sustaining vital links to the outside world and their families and an aid to rehabilitation. Secure phones can also help to tackle the flow of illegal mobiles and thus reduce tension.”

MORE: Prisons ban visitors in effort to combat coronavirusCurrently more than 50 prisons across England and Wales have in-cell telephony which allows prisoners to stay in touch with their family members in a controlled manner.

The MoJ said the new handsets will make sure this ability is balanced across all prisons, and promote stability in jails without existing in-cell phones.

Lucy Frazer, prisons and probation minister, said: “These are uniquely challenging times and the decision to end prison visits has not been taken lightly. We know these are important to many prisoners and that they will be concerned for the wellbeing of their family members.

“It is therefore right and proportionate that we provide other, controlled ways for them to stay in touch so that they can maintain the close bonds that will ultimately reduce their chances of reoffending when they are released.”

Alongside the handsets, the Prison Service is also exploring the use of video calls at six pilot sites to allow prisoners to be called by their families in a secure environment with strict safeguards, the MoJ added.