Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to end the policy of giving cell phones to prisoners.
During Prime Minister’s Questions, Conservative Party chairman Russell Findlay said the devices had been used to “order arson explosions, drug dealings and threaten victims of crime”.
Inmates were first given phones in April 2020 after visiting was suspended during the first Covid lockdown.
There were some restrictions with prisoners who were unable to send text messages, access the Internet, or receive incoming calls.
It was supposed to be “hack proof”. However, last year a prison officer at HMP Barlinnie told ITV that around a third of the phones had been tampered with.
Data revealed by Mail on Sunday revealed 4,877 cases of abuse had been reported since the introduction of phones, an average of five incidents per day.
In September Glasgow High Court heard how Robert Warnock had arranged three arson attacks in Greenock using a mobile phone he had been given access to during the pandemic.
At the time, he was serving an 11-year sentence in Schutz Prison at the time for attempting to kill a woman with a meat cleaver.
Although in-person visits resumed last year, every new prisoner still received a phone.
Asked about the scheme during the First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon said: “At the start of the pandemic we made the decision to provide mobile phones to detainees to maintain vital family contact, including and perhaps especially with children during what was a very amazing and difficult period and when visitation was not normal is possible.
Mr Findlay asked the First Minister how her government could justify the £4.12m cost at the same time by “cutting the budgets for our police, courts and prisons”.
“Money is tight, we get that. So how can cell phones for prisoners cost £4m and still be a priority?”
Taxpayers’ money should be spent on front line services, not on freebies to criminals.
“These phones have been misused nearly 5,000 times. They have been used to order arson, deal drugs and threaten crime victims.
“Prison officers have told me these SNP phones put them at risk by fueling inmate violence. So when, First Minister, are you going to deny this costly and dangerous policy?”
Sturgeon told the MSPs Mr Findlay was right about budgets being so tight.
“It is narrowed by the Tory economic mismanagement and the Tories eroding our budgets.
“For the issue at hand, prison is, yes, about punishment, but prison should also be about rehabilitation. And it’s important that we don’t lose focus on that.
“Providing a mobile phone which, of course I think, will be corrected if I’m wrong about this, but I think it’s something the UK government has also done during the pandemic, and it’s about ensuring contacts between prisoners and families, including children and it’s important for rehabilitation, which is something Important to reduce abuse and re-offending.
“So, we’re going to continue to look at all of these cases carefully, but we’re going to look at them in the context of a justice system that yes, punishes offenders, and that’s critical, but also seeks to rehabilitate offenders and reduce reoffending because that’s in the public interest of communities across the country.” “.