TV in prison: What men and women watch in their cells

Hollyoaks and Sky Sports News Women prisoners watch Hollyoaks on E4 but men no longer get Sky Sports News

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Details of which television channels prisoners are allowed to watch in their cells have been revealed.

Up until 2010 there was a clear gender divide - with sports news for men and US comedies and soaps for women.

But Sky Sports News was dropped from the approved list when it became a subscription channel. Women can still watch entertainment channel E4 however.

The Prison Service said inmates could only watch TV in their cells as "a condition of good behaviour".

Some inmates of privately run prisons are given access Sky TV pay channels, while those in publicly-run prisons are restricted to free-to-air channels.

Conservative MP for Shipley, Philip Davies asked the MoJ to provide details of how many prisoners had access to pay-to-view Sky TV in their cells.


The department said the pay channels were not available to inmates in any public sector prisons, but some inmates were given access to nine free digital channels.

These were decided at the time of the recent digital switchover on the basis of what channels were thought to be the most popular.

BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, Channel 4, Channel 5, ITV3, VIVA - a music channel - and Film4 were given to both men and women.

Start Quote

I will certainly be pushing the new justice secretary to make prison a more austere place for those that get sent there.”

End Quote Philip Davies MP

The department consulted female prisoners as to whether they would prefer to have Sky Sports News, like the men, or E4 - which is run by Channel 4 and known for reality shows like Made in Chelsea, soap opera Hollyoaks and US comedies like The Big Bang Theory.

But a Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said Sky Sports News was cancelled when it stopped being a free-to-air channel.

Mr Davies said he was unconcerned about which channels were available - but said the rules on which prisoners are eligible to have TVs in their rooms should be stricter.

He said: "I'm not a big fan of every prisoner having a TV but once you've gone down that line it's inevitable, with digital switchover, that they will get free-to-view channels.

"But to lose the right to have a TV you really have to be going some.

"I once visited a prison and a prison officer told me that an inmate had thrown a TV at an officer and smashed it all to pieces on the floor of his cell.

"A few hours later they'd given him a new one."


A Prison Service spokesperson said: "In-cell televisions are funded by prisoners from rental payments.

"They can only watch free to air digital channels on small televisions. Individual prisons decide which channels are available and ensure they are suitable for viewing in a prison.

"Access to televisions is a condition of good behaviour. TVs can and will be removed from prisoners whose behaviour becomes unacceptable."

Prisons that are run by private companies, of which there are 11 in England and Wales, may provide Sky TV in prisoner's cells.

Figures for the number of inmates with access to Sky TV in their cells rose from 1,536 in 2006 to 4,070 in 2009. The MoJ has yet to publish the latest figures.

"I think it is outrageous that prisoners have the luxury of Sky TV when my law-abiding constituents - who have to pay and lots can't afford to - don't," Mr Davies said.

"I will certainly be pushing the new justice secretary to make prison a more austere place for those that get sent there."

A spokesperson for the department said decisions about which TV channels were available was an operational matter for the companies running the prisons.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    I dont mind them haveing some freeview chanells but skytv? really most people cant affoard that stuff.

    TOTAL waste of tax payers (our) money

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    I must be doing something wrong, i work and can`t afford sky tv, i might aswell pack it in and beat someone up go prison and get my sky tv n xbox, il probably even learn a trade in prison like car mechanic that i can`t afford to pay for at college.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    "Punishment without rehabilitation isn't good for us"

    Without sufficient punishment theres no motivation to rehabilitate in the first place. Most will be in and out of prison all their lives. Its water off a ducks back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Presumably the Powers That be allow the inmates to have televisions for the same reason they allow them to have illegal drugs: It keeps them quiet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I really hope that prisoners in Welsh gaols, or sentenced by courts in Wales are also allowed to watch S4C. (The same goes for BBC Alba in Scotland.) Otherwise, consider the human rights implications of English-only TV.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    prisons are hard places to keep calm with many disturbed mentally ill man locked up as a response to their crimes asaposed to treatment in mental health institutions since we decided that care in the community was the way this keeps them entertained and calm rather than on edge and dangerous too themselves and others being locked up with somebody for in a small cell for 22 hours a day is no fun.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Please sign this petition Criminals should not have the luxury of watching TV in their Cells and then please share!!!!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    If prisoners now get TV in their cells instead of bromide in their tea isn't that more civilised? Most of these people will, at some point, be released back into society. Punishment without rehabilitation isn't good for us, let alone them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    To happypam - I have visited a prison. Did you really not expect them to lock the gates behind you? I have also been a victim of a crime, which was infinitely more terrifying.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    So if I don't buy my next TV licence, get caught and refuse to pay the fine, I will be sent to prison where I can watch it free.

    If the TV is provided for good behaviour, why can't all good citizens have a free TV licence?

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    To everyone who thinks prison is an easy ride -
    Visit a few!
    Criticism is easy with no experience.
    Most people are 'too busy' to find out what they are talking about.
    The first time I went to visit a prisoner I had a gate slammed and locked behind me - Terrifying.
    Then I was asked to fill in a Visiting Order for a young girl who could neither read nor write.
    Both gave me food for thought

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    So they pay £1 per week = £52 per year.
    Now assuming they have only a small tv in their cells of a non-standard brand and not a flat screen lets say £50 cost for the tv itself, plus the license fee of £120 (I think that's what I paid this year), plus the electricity to run it for the year = approx £300, that's a hell of a discount they get for committing a crime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    i think that the point is, that they have Television supplied for them in their cells, and not what they are there for!

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Only ever knew one person who went to prison - was a drug offence. He carried on using heroin in prison. He had a tv in his cell. On release, he looked good- 3 meals a day... He was never rehabilitated. Came out after 6 months and re-offended - Stole most of the contents of my flat. I never saw him again. Apparently he died last year from an overdose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    that is £52 per year, how much is our lenience fee etc????

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    It is easy for outsiders to criticise, but I wager these rewards for good behaviour and prisoner entertainment improve the behaviour of prisoners. As much as society delights in the suffering of the weak and failed, if these people are penned in with nothing to do then that will breed only boredom, frustration, aggression and more anti-social tendencies. Let's not preach, but rather be pragmatic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    The trouble is 99% of these people don't know what they are talking about when it comes to prisons.

    Televisions are rented by prisoners at £1 (out of £8 earnings) per week. They lower violence, educate, reduce self-harm and keep prisoners in touch with world events (ready for release). They are dependent upon acceptable behaviour and can, are are, withdrawn. Some prisoners decline a TV.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Whether people see prison as a place for criminals to be punished or rehabilitated, either way they should not even be allowed to have television access in their cells.
    Television is a luxury not a necessity. I pay a licence fee annually do they?
    The touchy feely liberal morons need to realise that prisoners should be denied luxuries as part of their sentence or they will never learn.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    My partner is in the army. He is posted in Yorkshire - even though we live in Kent so he has to live in Barracks Mon-Fri. He has to pay for his petrol every weekend when he comes home, he has to pay for his meals, his tv, his tv licence and he can't afford to have Sky at his barracks. Why do rapists, robbers and murderers get a better deal than someone who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan?

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    They should only get one channel: Lockup TV. Lockup TV is made by prisoners and consists of Fred Astaire movies, edited sports hightlights, Blue Peter and endless repeats of Last of the Summer Wine.


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