New state-of-the-art prisons being built in England and Wales will have telephones, showers and toilets inside each cell, along with some that feature screen terminals for inmates to order meals and book activities, a National Audit Office report revealed today.
"Most importantly, in new buildings all cells have integrated screened toilets and over 90 per cent have integrated showers," the report said.
"Some new cells contain telephones (the use of which is controlled and may be monitored by prison staff) and, at HMP Thameside, terminals to book activities and order meals.
"In-cell telephones, as well as allowing prisoners to maintain family contact (important for successful rehabilitation), also contribute to prisoner safety," the report added.
Ministers have decided to keep three South Yorkshire prisons under public-sector management amid an investigation into private firm Serco which was the preferred bidder to run them, the Ministry of Justice said today.
Movies with a certificate 18 rating have been banned from jails in England and Wales as part of a clampdown on perks behind bars brought into force today.
Prisoners are to be banned from watching violent and sexually explicit films, such as Hostel and Reservoir Dogs, under changes to the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) scheme.
The Prison Reform Trust said the pressure of budget cuts and economies of scale have led the Government to the creation of "super prisons".
Director Juliet Lyons said:
Prisons cannot, and should not, continue to pick up the tab for a range of social and health needs.
A more effective and far-sighted use of taxpayers' money would see addicts receiving treatment in the community, or in residential centres, and people who are mentally ill, or those with learning disabilities, getting the health and social care they need to lead responsible lives in their communities.
Nearly half the prisoners in England and Wales could be held in 1,000-plus super-sized jails under Government plans to transform the prison estate, campaigners have said.
Around 38,000 prisoners will ultimately be held in 30 so-called "super prisons" based on current trends, according to the Prisons Reform Trust.
The charity has warned that larger and cheaper-to-run jails come "at the expense of prisoners' safety and rehabilitation".
Economist Vicky Pryce, who spent two months in prison earlier this year, has said that women behind bars have "special needs".
She said it was not a case of making prison "softer" for female offenders, but of minimising the wider impact and costs on society.
Pryce was sentenced to eight months in prison in March for perverting the course of justice by taking speeding points for her former husband Chris Huhne in 2003.
Labour's shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan has described the government's prison reforms as "tinkering around the edges" of the problem.
Khan told Daybreak that it should be investing in more women's treatment centres and more smaller prisons. He said in an earlier statement: "With only a small number of scattered women’s prisons, the concept of local resettlement is almost meaningless."
When a female offender walks out of the prison gates, I want to make sure she never returns.
Keeping female prisoners as close as possible to their homes, and importantly their children, is vital if we are to help them break the pernicious cycle of re-offending.
And providing at least a year of support in the community, alongside the means to find employment on release, will give them the best possible chance to live productive, law abiding lives.
The new plan to try and tackle female offending is being set out to work alongside Transforming Rehabilitation reforms in which every offender receives 12 months of tailored support as they leave prison.
With the aim of trying to cut reoffending and trigger further falls in the female prison population, a new open unit at HMP Styal is to focus on helping women into jobs on release.
Several reports to be published later today, including The Government's response to the Justice Select Committee report on Women Offenders: After the Corston Report and the NOMS Women's Custodial Estate Review, are set to help feed in to the new approach towards tackling female offending.
Female inmates will serve their sentences closer to home and will be offered skills to help find work upon their release under new reforms revealed.
Under the proposals, low risk offenders will be encouraged to undertake practical training so they can seek employment following their jail term.
The reforms, unveiled by Justice minister Lord McNally, who is also the minister for female offenders, call for all women's prisons to become resettlement prisons so that women are close to home and are re-integrated into society.
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "Trying to improve women's imprisonment would be a waste when the best way to reduce women's offending is to invest in treatment for addictions, mental healthcare, training for work and safe housing away from domestic violence and abuse."