The 'unhackable' phones given to prisoners by Scottish Government - which were hacked to buy drugs

Inside Barlinnie: ITV News Scotland Correspondent Peter Smith goes inside Scotland's biggest prison and given exclusive access to how it's tackling the problem of inmates struggling with addiction

So-called 'unhackable' mobile phones given to prisoners in Scotland during lockdown by the Scottish Government at a cost of £3 million are now being used for drug deals and other criminal activity, ITV News has learned.

During lockdown when prison visits were restricted, 7,600 inmates in Scotland were issued with their own mobile phone by the Scottish government.

But these supposedly tamper-proof phones were almost immediately hacked by inmates, and, according to the Scottish Prison Service, 728 have been found since August 2020 to operate with illegal SIM cards, used for drug deals and other criminal activity.

ITV News has been given exclusive access to Scotland's largest prison, Barlinnie, where addiction is described as "worse than ever before."

"They're very, very ingenious" - prison officer John McTavish tells ITV News he estimates a third of the phones given to the prison by the Scottish government have been tampered with

John McTavish, Prison Officer at HMP Barlinnie told ITV News: "You give a prisoner a phone, and they're very, very ingenious. If they put their mind to something, they can do anything at all. Within hours, the tamper proof was gone."

The prison officier estimates about a third of phones have been tampered with.

"I checked the phones in one of the halls here in March time, and of the 300 prisoners that were there, it was probably about 100 phones tampered with altogether." The drugs bought with these phones are often simply thrown over the prison walls, but inmates are finding ever more complex and covert methods to smuggle in drugs, including legal letters soaked in drugs that the prisoner then dissolves in water and drinks.

Barlinnie is Scotland's biggest prison. Credit: ITV News

All prisons are struggling to tackle the supply of drugs, but Barlinnie is using new treatment strategies to break the cycle of addiction and crime.

At Barlinnie, they are now focusing on treating the addiction and so reducing the demand. Convicted murderer Mark McGartland, who is serving life for stabbing a man to death while under the influence, has been offered a life skills class as part of the recovery programme. He is learning to cook, which means handling sharp knives.

"People need to want to change," he told ITV News. "If someone wants to make a change, it will work."

"I see a difference every day": Natalie Logan, from the Sisco Recovery Cafe, tells ITV News how the recovery programme is delivering life changing results

Addiction support at Barlinnie is unconventional and potentially high risk. The recovery cafe allows inmates to talk each other through recovery and prison life. It is run by an outside charity, and operates with one condition: no prison officers are allowed in the room.

Sisco Recovery Cafe worker Natalie Logan explains why: "If they (the inmates) openly discuss using drugs or having violent thoughts, then that can go against them, and they might not get parole, or they might get in trouble. So it's so important that it's a safe environment."

She says she sees a difference in the inmates "every day".

"I see a difference when we come to a gate liberation, and Joe Bloggs, who has been using chaotically every day in prison, has presented themselves at the gate, clean and sober and ready to move into an accommodation and live his best life."

The recovery group at Barlinnie. Credit: ITV News

The majority of the inmates have followed a similar, and familiar, path: a childhood in care, or one surrounded by violence and addiction. As adults, they have spent much of their lives in and out of prison. Nearly all of the inmates in the recovery group ITV News sat in on are in prison because of addiction. Derek Hobbs is serving 27 months for assaulting a police officer. He has been in prison at least 15 times since he was 16. He says the recovery cafe has been "the biggest help" in his sobriety.

Mobile phones, issued by the Scottish government, are now being used to buy drugs. Credit: ITV News

"I've got coping mechanisms, I know what I can do, I've got the support there." Steven Telford is serving eight months assault and refusing a breath test.

"There's been times when I've hated myself, I've been disappointed, I've beaten myself up. Now I'm in a place, probably through the recovery group and sharing my experience, where I'm starting to enjoy my own company, I'm proud I can say no to drugs." A convicted murderer is among the prisoners allowed to be left in the room with no prison officers. He killed a man while at the height of his addiction and the recovery programme has steered him away from drugs and he now chairs the group, hoping to give others the same help and support.

"I've committed some horrible, horrible offences...all I can say is sorry": A Barlinnie inmate tells ITV News how the prison's recovery programme has helped him turn his life around

"Through coming to places like this, this is where I've found the tools and ways to keep going. "I've committed some horrible, horrible offences against people. I live with that guilt every day. I pray every morning for people I've hurt. All I can say is sorry." This recovery work in Barlinnie is working to get break the cycle of drugs, crime and prison.

The benefits of this recovering programme go beyond the prison walls. Keeping inmates from reoffending saves the tax payer money - each inmate costs on average £35,000 per year. "I've been here for 10 years. I used to work in a security unit before that and I've seen some of the young boys from the security unit coming through the prison system, so it's just a constant revolving door with the terminology," Debbie O'Rourke, Barlinnie Life Skills.

Convicted murderer Mark is learning to cook as part of his recovery programme. Credit: ITV News

She says breaking the cycle of criminality and addition means teaching people to realise their potential.

"They have to want to change themselves for a start. And that's the benefit of the resources we have at Barlinnie, it can help guys have a look at not only their addictions, but their lifestyle as a whole, and hopefully address all the different aspects of their lives to stop them coming back and in prison." But recovery programmes like this are only as good as the onward care and while inmates can leave the prison drug free, they can fall back into addiction if they are not given the support they need on the outside.

Many are housed in hostels on release where they are surrounded by drugs. In this environment, at a time when they are trying to adjust to life outside prison walls, many relapse on the outside - only to find themselves back in prison.

Too many are still stuck in that revolving door of addiction and crime, and it only takes them one of two ways - behind bars, or to an early grave.

"I'd flourish if I was given my own flat": Derek has been in prison at least 14 times since he was 16, often relapsing when he is homed in a hostel on release

Derek says: "If I left prison and I had my own temporary flat instead of a hostel, I'd flourish...I wouldn't come back to prison.

"Every time I'm let out of prison, I'm either homeless, on the streets or in a hostel."

"Guys are terrified to go into hostels, they're a breeding ground for addiction. It kills them, basically," a prisoner who wishes to remain anonymous says. The recovery programme inside Barlinnie can not force prisoners to make the right decisions, but the governor says his mission is to give people ways to cope with what awaits them on the outside. "It's a difficult world, particularly for people who don't have either the literacy or the social skills or the ability or the confidence or self esteem, unable to engage in these things," governor Mr Stoney tells ITV News.

"So they use drugs to cope or mask, or they'll turn to other risky behaviours and then we get them here again and you start the cycle again."

"We need to do better": First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon says her government is looking at how prisoners can be supported when they are released

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told ITV News she was not aware of the government-issued phones in prisons being tampered with and said her government would look into it.

She said the phones were given in context of having to restrict prisoner visiting.

"We created a different way for prisoners to have contact with their families, in some cases with their children," she said.

"If you want to give me evidence of phones been tampered with, and I will absolutely look at that."

She acknowledged that prisoners have been let down, and drugs - and post-prison rehabilitation - are problem areas the Scottish government is investing in.

"If you're going to sit there and expect me to say 'no, we can't do better,' then you're going to be disappointed because I think, and I've said it to you and to others before, not because we don't care and haven't tried, but we haven't got it right in every respect on drugs, which is why we've got the the scandal of drugs deaths being at the level they are.

"One of the issues, and it's one of many issues, it's not the only one, is that you're outlining, of people coming out of prison. There's a more general point here about the support that goes around people when they're trying to come off drugs or stay off drugs and that's one of the things that we're investing more in - community support, better rehabilitation, access to treatment, same day treatment, and access to a greater open range of options for treatments.

"I'm not going to sit here in any aspect of this and say 'we can't do better', we're trying to do better."

In a statement, the Scottish Prison Service said: "A wide range of interventions and supports are available for those in our care to address the problem of addiction. Prisons reflect the problems of our wider society and many entering our prisons have long standing addictions and dependency issues.

"We try to work with those in custody to encourage them to recognise the problems that they have and to provide support counselling and medical  help for those addictions.

"It remains the case that those who continue to make money out of human misery will attempt to traffic drugs into our prisons, by the use of technology, intelligence  and partnership working with other agencies we will work to stop them."