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 69.

    The world is going mad!

    Where is the rehabilitation value in sitting someone in front of a TV, yes it will occupy their mind and distract them but it does nothing to re educate and show people there are alternatives.

    This is lazy management by the HMPS!

    My god, I struggle to make ends meet and worry about paying my TV licence and people who are serving in prison get to watch TV for free.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    I suspect that the private prisons use it to make the inmates easier to handle, but surely if they're bored they should reflect on why their in prison in the first place and not be given a means of 'escape' to while away their time?

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Appeasing people who've commited serious crime doesn't do anyone any good (nor does letting them out early!!) My great uncles were prison officers when prison conditions were harsher yet had no problem taking charge. People who've committed violent crimes need their liberty taking off them as punishment & to keep the rest of society safe; it shouldn't be a tea party!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Private or State Run prisons are PAID by the TAXPAYER. No prisoner should get preferential treatment because the prison is state run or privately run. TV is a luxury. We all pay for the privilege, Prisoners getting SKY TV is an absolute disgrace and scandal and should cease immediately!

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    38. JamesR1701
    You will find they have one licence per prison, not one licence per prisoner. Perhaps a recalculation is in order.

    Having a tv in the cell saves having to let them out of the cell to watch communal tv. Seems fair.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    I agree but unfortunately it's not unexpected with all the ridiculous human rights laws and wishy washy attempts to rehabilitate offenders some of which continue to reoffend regardless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    #''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."#


  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    @ Whistling Neil. Private prisons are called DCMF Prisons.
    Designed Constructed, Managed and Financed by the private sector - only after 25 year do the become the property of the prison service!

  • Comment number 61.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Sometimes watching TV can be seen as a punishment in itself..take 'Citizen Khan' for example

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    53 Sorry but what a silly comment you made: ALL the money going to prisons whether they are state run or privately run comes directly from the tax payers, no one else pays for them.
    It is tax payers money going to fund a luxury service to the least deserving members of society - it matters not whether it is going to Sky or any of the other premium pay TV providers - it MUST cease.

  • Comment number 58.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    I think prisoners shouldn't have this luxury. It's just like a home from home, but everything is free to them - a bed to sleep in, food, water and entertainment. People are sent there for a reason. It shouldn't act like a youth hostel. No wonder our prisons are getting crowded. Why live on the street or pay taxes when you can have a free home with a TV?

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Maybe the MOJ should follow the example of Sheriff Joe in Arizona - only National Geographic and religious channels can be viewed by his prisoners.

  • Comment number 55.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    For goodness sake they are in prision they have committed a crime, they don't deserve anything let alone Sky TV......

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    To all those complaing about taxpayer money going on SKYTV. Read the article.
    'Prisons that are run by private companies, of which there are 11 in England and Wales, may provide Sky TV in prisoner's cells.'

    Would just like to add, that I have veen the victim of crime and also visited a prisoner. Both experiences are extremely painful and harrowing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    I tend not to believe anything an extreme right-wing tory and proven liar like Philip Davies says, least of all his views on law and order. His sort should be in the BNP and not part of the democratic process at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Let's just remind ourselves how those poor prisoners feel...
    Kiaran Stapleton, "I love prison. I watch Coronation Street. I have got a fat canteen. I love prison. Lock me up for 65 years."
    "I have even got a new rug and bedding coming for my cell. I'm not bothered."

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    #43. alexian - No, I am not going to jump on some bandwagon and sign a petition.

    Every time there is a "prison" story it brings out some very tall tales and some very misinformed reaction.


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