Making connections

Lowdham Grange is a long-term category B prison which houses up to 950 prisoners In-cell phones allow prisoners to make calls on demand The facility aids rehabilitation of prisoners by maintaining family relationships

Counselling, family contact, a friendly voice and other forms of support can be gained and accessed during more isolated periods.
HMP Lowdham Grange exterior

Family breakdown is a common consequence of imprisonment - and has been shown to have devastating effects upon rates of re-offending. Without access to communication, and in stressful times, it's all too easy for prisoners to lose the support network they will need on release. Indeed, research has shown that prisoners without active family support during imprisonment are up to six times more likely to re-offend in the first year after release than those who demonstrate or receive active family interest.

At HMP Lowdham Grange near Nottingham, all prisoners on normal location have access to phones they can use any time they are in their cells, and therefore maintain contact with their loved ones, and limit the sense of separation from family and friends. In-cell phones are now also available to prisoners located in the Reintegration Unit, although only on an Incentive and Earned Privilege basis. HMP Lowdham Grange is one of four prisons Serco manages in England which have adopted the initiative, a system of in-cell phones which allows prisoners to ring pre-approved numbers.

Phone calls are restricted to pre-approved numbers only and prisoners are limited to approximately 10 personal numbers. The phones cannot receive external incoming calls. Prisoners pay for the calls with money they have received for prison work or with credit received from family.

Gareth Sands, Director of Lowdham Grange, is in no doubt of the advantages: "In-cell telephony has a whole range of benefits. Counselling, family contact, a friendly voice and other forms of support can be gained and accessed during more isolated periods of their days and nights," he says.

Gareth explains that in-cell telephones also enable prisoners who are parents to be more responsible, allowing them to talk and read to their children, further enhancing family ties. Often, family breakdown as a result of imprisonment is exacerbated when contact limitations are in place. "The benefits are numerous and the impact is massive. I truly believe that the in-cell phones help prisoners cope in what is a challenging and, for many, an unnerving experience of incarceration."

However, there are rules, and all phone calls are monitored. Staff have the facility to restrict a prisoner's access to his phone if the system is abused, such as using the phone for illegal activities.

But it is the positive benefits that Gareth Sands is keen to emphasise. He points to the 2011 report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons into HMP Lowdham Grange, which stated: "The in-cell telephone system provided very good access for prisoners to contact their families." Also concluding: "In-cell phones... were effective innovations, which greatly improved communication and were much valued by prisoners and staff."