Sex offenders may be allowed to Skype relatives and friends from Irish jailhouse

NewsBy Jamie McDowell
Magilligan Prison
Magilligan Prison

Banged-up sex offenders could be allowed to use Skype to speak to friends and family as part of a rehabilitation scheme at Magilligan jail.

However, some quarters are worried about the risks involved in such a programme.

At the moment, over 70 inmates at the County Derry jail are being allowed to use the audio-visual technology to communicate with people outside jail.

The aim of the project is to enable people who are serving terms of six years or less to maintain vital personal relationships that they have with loved ones.

It could mean that sex offenders will also be allowed to use the technology.

SDLP MLA John Dallat said that he believes sex offenders should not be included in the project.

He said: “They should not be included in the Skype programme, the risks are far too great and I don’t believe the prison is in a position to provide a level of supervision that would protect the wider world, that is the people they are Skyping to."

At the moment, prisoners who qualify for the scheme must provide a list of the people they wish to speak to via the internet based service.

They are allowed to speak with each person for up to 30 minutes each. 

Prison staff are allowed to monitor the the images broadcast during the conversation, but the conversation between the prisoner and their contact will be kept private.

Governor of Magilligan David Eagleson explained the rationale behind the project. He said: "We know that when prisoners have strong family support they are in better shape for reintegration to family and community and we see this as an important part of the rehabilitation process. One of the most serious aspects of being in prison can be the sense of isolation and even abandonment; and one of the most effective support that can be given to prisoners is the assurance that they are not forgotten.

“Imprisonment may also have a devastating effect on the development of relationships between a child and father. Being able to interact in real time with their father, in their own home, helps children to understand he is engaged with their lives, interested in their achievements, and is there to support them in times of difficulty.

“This interaction also helps foster a sense of security, mitigate any negative social and developmental aspects on the children, and ease the reintegration of the father into the family home following release.”

The project is reportedly particularly popular with foreign national inmates.