Thursday, January 21, 2010

Prisoner and t'Interweb

In fairness, I should begin this by saying that the two times I've been allowed near the Net, both ended with my making my way to the pictures of naked ladies. Civilisation did not collapse and the fabric of society didn't turn to dust.

The prison service has a revulsion of technology that would make even a Luddite blush. It is instinctive and pervasive. When I began this sentence we were not even allowed radio's that could receive FM or which could be powered by mains electricity. The argument was that, with FM, we could listen to staff radio communications traffic. This was a pathetic lie but they stuck to it until the national radio stations switched completely to FM.

Telephones and TV's didn't impinge on our consciousness, let alone to the extent of being a hope or dream. It took nearly a century after the invention of the phone before we were permitted restricted access. It only took about sixty years after the TV was invented before we had them. That is some improvement, surely...?!
But the internet... Just mention the word and management enter a state of incoherent brain-freeze, running around in a circle repeating the word 'security', the prison service’s all purpose soothing mantra that substitutes for thinking.
This is not to say that unrestricted internet access couldn't be used for malevolent ends. I do accept that. So the question is, can a form of net access to allowed which offers all of the benefits but minimises the potential harms? The prison service says not.

Except, of course, when it comes to using cons to make millions in profit. There is a private E-Commerce company which operates in one prison, where dozens of cons work for joke money whilst making the bosses millions in profits. They do manage to block the objectionable end of the net.

I once worked for that company whilst at the same time I was undertaking my Masters degree. Could I use the net for research? No. Would the prison install any type of net access in the Education Department? Not on your life. So for a full working week I was on the net, but when I needed it for something other than making someone money it was prohibited on security grounds. And people wonder just why I hold the system in such contempt.

Let us assume that many of the 8,000 mobile phones the prison service confiscated from prisoners in the past year were net-enabled. What wickedness has befallen our nation due to this? All I can see is that the odd jackass puts his picture on Facebook.Apart from that, nothing. No ill effects whatever.

The horrors that some people feel could flow from Net access are quite bizarre. This is illustrated by the response to my blogging from the Director of the Howard League. Whilst supporting prisoners blogging (preferably by less challenging individuals, though!) and having some net access, she said we must obviously be denied access to internet pornography.

Ummm...Why, exactly?


  1. Because they could organise an escape bid? Because they could threaten people who helped send them down? Because the thought of rapists and paedophiles drooling over porn is distasteful?

  2. @anon, so why is this list of wickedness not being brought to reality by prisoners with mobile phones? And why not split the difference by allowing the net but installing filters and monitoring. I must say that i find the idea of banning access to information on the grounds of taste is itself distasteful.

  3. Anon, above - did you actually read the post, or just the heading?

  4. What Norwegians think of the internet in prison: "But they must be able to access the internet, to help in their education and also so that they know they are still connected to the world." says Leif, a teacher, speaking to Erwin James in the Guardian. Obviously, they *know* about firewalls...

  5. There is an excellent piece in this months Inside Time detailing Norways system that introduces the Net into their prison system.

  6. Because you'd go blind.

  7. Good old scandanavians! Always a step ahead. I'm feeling severely contemptious too. Every post a new insight.

    Its been a time since the above has been blogged, i'm simultaneously watching Dispatches during Egypt's Mubarak rejection (feb 2011), absolutely f....... hilarious. The government has shut the internet down, the people are saying that the reason they've managed to bind together and stand up for decency is because of the networking facilitated by facebook etc. The people exposed the atrocities of government/police et al that have abused the trust put in them and now stand together to defend their honour! (thats the nicest way i could describe total carnage in north africa)

    Why does power turn some people sour??

    Our queen seems to come across as having integrity... or am i mistaken??