We warmly welcome today’s announcement of the continued roll out of in-cell phones, but call upon Minister David Gauke to do more to ensure families of prisoners are able to raise the alarm when they know a loved one is in danger.

We are delighted that David Gauke is responding to one of the recommendations of the Farmer Report and moving forward with investment in in-cell telephones for prisoners. Provided this is done in a sensible risk managed way, it will help to reduce violence, and improve contact with many families. Helping families keep in touch will reduce re-offending and so this is not only the compassionate thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do.

We now urge the Minister to prioritise another of Lord Farmer’s key recommendations - which is that prisons must have effective ‘communication gateways’ for families who have serious concerns for the safety of family members in prison. As we reported only last week in our new report, produced by the research team at the Prison Reform Trust, over the past 12 months, 1/3 of the 8,000 families who called Pact had serious concerns about the safety of sons and other relatives in prison. In many cases, families call us in desperation after trying to communicate their concerns to prisons, and many find that prison ‘safer custody’ lines go unanswered, email inboxes are full or un-monitored, or in some cases, prisons simply fail to respond. 

In one case highlighted by the report, a prisoners’ brother sought to raise concerns about his brother’s need for pain relief, cancellations of outpatient appointments and general lack of care. His repeated requests for action were backed by the charity, but ignored. The prisoner subsequently collapsed in his cell and was diagnosed with bone cancer. He died shortly after.

Andy Keen-Downs, Pact CEO, said:

Families are often the first to know that a prisoner is suicidal, being bullied or is not getting the right care or medication, yet all too often, the first time the voices of prisoners’ families are properly listened to by the authorities is at inquests, when it is too late. We urge David Gauke to listen to families and to read our report and take action to ensure that prisons have effective systems and processes in place to enable families to raise the alarm and have their concerns treated seriously.