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Skype in jail is an insult to victims of crime: peer

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 18/11/2015

DUP peer Lord Morrow
DUP peer Lord Morrow

Plans to allow prisoners in Northern Ireland to use Skype to make video calls to their families have been criticised.

In a UK first, more than 70 inmates at Magilligan will be given access to the service as part of a rehabilitation project.

Prisoners will be allowed to make personal calls to relatives for up to 30 minutes each week.

However, the scheme was attacked by DUP peer and MLA Lord Morrow, who said: "Our justice system rewards offenders without any consideration for their victims."

Skype is an internet-based telephone service that allows users to make low-cost calls both nationally and internationally.

David Eagleson, the governor of Magilligan, said the only cost was installing the equipment.

"We know that when prisoners have strong support, they are in better shape for reintegration to family and community, and we see this as an important part of the rehabilitation process," he added.

Prisoners will be allocated up to 30 minutes a week and can make calls from a soundproof suite. Their conversations will be monitored by cameras.

However, Lord Morrow said it was a waste of time and would not cut re-offending. "The Prison Service has played the emotional card in announcing this, focusing on prisoners missing their loved ones," he added. "I'm sure that's true and highly regrettable, but separation from society is the price of crime, or at least it was.

"I must ask what is being done to address the wellbeing of victims, some of whom live with the physical and emotional scars inflicted by these offenders.

"I don't for one minute believe this latest facility is a critical requirement.

"Neither do I accept it will prevent re-offending or lead to any meaningful rehabilitation."

Lord Morrow said he had submitted questions to Justice Minister David Ford on the matter.

However, Mr Eagleson said there were valid reasons for the scheme's introduction.

"One of the most serious aspects of being in prison can be the sense of isolation and even abandonment, and the most effective support that can be given to prisoners is the assurance that they are not forgotten," he added.

"Moreover, imprisonment may also have a devastating effect on the development of relationships between a child and father.

"This interaction also helps foster a sense of security, mitigate any negative social and developmental aspects on the children, and ease the reintegration of the father into the family home following release."

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