By Claire McKim
SCOTTISH prisoners could get the right to send email – by giving handwritten messages to warders to scan in and send on.
Bosses want inmates to be able to communicate with friends and family more quickly than traditional “snail mail” allows.
But because prisoners are not allowed access to online computers, hard-pressed warders will have to electronically convert the messages and then type in email addresses.
Critics of the plan today branded it an “extraordinary and costly” waste of prison officers’ time.
The revelation comes just a day after it emerged that taxpayers are funding free Viagra for Scottish prisoners to pep up their home visits.
Some 14 Scottish prisons already take part in an “Email a Prisoner” scheme which requires jail staff to print off messages from outside and hand-deliver them to cons.
But the new plan, set to be introduced by Barlinnie, will make email a two-way system for 1,100 inmates.
Prisoners will hand-write their emails and hand the sheets to staff to be scanned in to a computer. It is understood the scan will then have to be attached to an email and the addresses required by the prisoner manually typed in.
Mr Arshaq Ahmad, unit manager at Barlinnie, said the one-way system, under which prisoners received emails, had been a success.
He said: “It works very well and very simply and the scheme is very popular throughout the prison estate.
“It is particularly popular with foreign national prisoners and it is used by the legal profession, on occasion, to send non privileged information.”
Mr Ahmad said allowing prisoners to make good family contact via two-way email would reduce reoffending.
He added: “You also have to think of the families on the outside. Why would you want to punish them? They should have as much communication as possible with those inside.
“We know the company is looking at Barlinnie for the two-way service.
“If it did meet all our security criteria, it is something we would certainly consider.”
Eben Wilson, of Taxpayers Scotland, warned the scheme could be costly.
He said: “In a time when all public servants are being asked to look for cost savings, the idea of using expensive staff to scan and manually transfer the text from prisoner’s e-mails is extraordinary.
“There must be a better way of monitoring communications in their electronic format.”
He added: “There are many precedents for oversight of possibly sensitive material in the services and elsewhere. Surely the Prison Service can think of a way of doing this that is less costly for taxpayers”.
The Email a Prisoner scheme was set up by Derek Jones, of Bath, a former prisoner.
He explained: “It basically enables people to maintain family ties in an up-to-date way, without having to wait for three to four days to hear anything back.”
Mr Jones argued that the email service would not be a “perk” for prisoners, instead would add extra security as emails do not have to be checked for drugs and other items.
The Scottish Prison Service said it welcomed any proposal that improved contact with family members.
Last month, it was revealed prisoners will be able to watch DVDs on journeys between jail and court.
Jail bosses also plan to set up tattoo parlours in prisons to stop the spread of infections.
A spokesman at Scottish Prison Service sought to play down the Barlinnie scheme.
He said the Email a Prisoner scheme had been in place for a “number of years”, adding: “We have no plans for expanding the scheme throughout Scotland, but that’s not to say that we won’t in the future.”