Inmates in maximum security prisons should be allowed mobile phones, say MPs

Lack of modern contact with the outside world hurts rehabilitation, they claim

Politicians from liberal parties SF and Enhedslisten believe that prisoners in Denmark should be allowed to have mobile phones while inside. Karina Lorentzen from SF’s legal affairs committee said that prisoners should have the opportunity to communicate with the outside world.

“Inmates can send letters and make calls from pay phones, so why not go all the way?” Lorentzen asked in Politiken.

Lorentzen also said that prison inmates should be allowed online access in networks monitored by the prison authorities.

“We need to welcome inmates into the digital age,” said Lorentzen. “It is appalling that some of them have no idea what NemID is, whether they have one, or how to get it. It makes sense to teach inmates these skills while they are inside.”

Illegal cell phone numbers on the rise
Prison service figures showed that nearly 2,000 illegal mobile phones – five per day – were confiscated from inmates in prisons and detention centres in 2014, an increase of 14 percent from the year before.

Although some inmates may only be using the smuggled phones to stay in contact with the outside world, authorities say they are also used to plan new crimes or intimidate witnesses.

Cell phones help inmates go straight?
Enhedslisten spokesperson Pernille Skipper agreed with her SF colleague that prisoners should have mobile phones.

“It's a really good idea,” Skipper told Politiken. “We want to make sure that criminals do not commit new crimes when they are released, and research shows that the more normal your day-to-day life is in prison, the greater the chance that you won’t continue a criminal career when you are released.”

Trine Bramsen, a spokesperson for Socialdemokraterne, recognised that cell phones have become a large part of everyday life, but doesn't believe that maximum security prisoners should have mobile phones.

“There must be some consequences to committing a crime and winding up in prison,” Bramsen told Politiken. “Constant contact with the outside should be one of them.”

Cellphones, drugs and booze
Brazen agreed that inmates should be allowed the occasional contact with family from the prison phone, but found it hard to justify allowing mobile phones.

Venstre spokesperson Karsten Lauritzen thinks his liberal colleagues may be a bit daffy.

“I must say I’m a bit stunned,” Lauritzen told Politiken. “We shouldn’t change laws just because a lot of criminals are breaking them.”  

Lauritzen pondered where allowing prisoners mobile phones might lead.

“What comes next?” he asked. “Seems SF believes that inmates should be allowed to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana while inside because it’s so boring to be in prison.”

READ MORE: Violence on the increase at Danish prisons

Lauritzen said that punishment is part of being in prison, and that limited access to the outside world should be part of that punishment.

Prisoners in minimum security ‘open prisons’ are allowed to have a hard-wired phone in their cells, and Peter Scharff Smith, a senior fellow at human rights organisation Institut for Menneskerettigheder, thinks that model could be a compromise for inmates in higher security lock-ups.

“I think there should be a solution in which even prisoners in high security facilities have better opportunities for contact with their families and children,” Smith told Politiken.

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