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No prison break on BT prices

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Prisoners rights campaigners have accused BT of profiteering on the back of the UK's prison population.

In a letter yesterday to the FT, the Prison Reform Trust notes the telco's recent consumer price cuts, before saying: "It is regrettable that this benefit is not being extended to people in prison who are not in a position to choose their phone provider."

Even on a payphone, BT charges 30p for any call up to 15 minutes, the trust says. But prisoners have to cough up 11p a minute to make calls from the big house - all on a weekly wage of around £8 (plus whatever else they can scrape together selling snouts and cell-brewed grog presumably.)

According to the trust, 45 per cent of prisoners lose touch with their families while inside, and this indirectly can contribute to reoffending.

"BT should extend its price-cutting measures to include prisoners, thereby removing a damaging, punitive charge and contributing to a safer society," it says.

BT was not exactly chastened by the trust's finger wagging, pointing out it provides the service under contract to HM Prison Service. "Comparing call charges for the prison phone system with call charges for BT's public payphones or residential lines is not comparing like with like."

After all, the telco says, "The call charges for prison phones have to cover the cost of providing and maintaining the phones and the system."

Is BT suggesting that the guests of Her Maj are a little, shall we say, harder on the system than domestic callers?

Anyway, BT does face cut-throat competition in prisons. If a leaked report from the Metropolitan Police is to be believed, there are 1,000 corrupt prison officers in the UK, who, among other things, keep prisons well supplied with the latest in mobile telecoms technology. ®

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