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 169.

    "Channel 4 and known for reality shows like Made in Chelsea, soap opera Hollyoaks" - I'm not sure what all the fuss is about, if these are the kind of shows they're showing I consider that good punishment. However they shouldn't be allowed The Big Bang Theory, that's actually good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    Whatever happened to prisons being a deterrent.It looks more like home from home.As,as someone has suggested, that tv is a reward for prisoners to behave their selves is ludicrous.If the jail sentence was say three years,then three years should be served.If the prisoner misbehaved then the sentence should be increased by 50% or more depending on the type of misbehavior.That would be a deterrent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    Sure give them TVs, but make the only channel available something like C-Beebies

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.


    "The point is we are providing this FREE OF CHARGE, along is nice accomodation and good meals out of our taxes."

    Nice accomodation and good meals? Are you for real? Have you ever seen the inside of a prison before?

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    I still don't understand why serious prisoners don't actually do anything to help society. Like fixing potholes, cleaning graffiti or picking up litter. Set up chain gangs and it'll be safe. Take their TVs away, part time working and part time studying 6 days a week.

    It's not as if they'll be putting anyone out of business by providing free labour, those things don't get done anyway!

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    To all those who think longer sentences and more people in prison will "make them think twice". It doesn't work in the USA, despite a continuously increasing numbers, 2 million these days, 20 times the amount we have for 5 times the population. Alternatively, look at Finland say, smaller prison population per capita, lower crime rates. At 50000 per prisoner per annum, the TV cost is meaningless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    @156 you seem to be missing the point. What law abiding citizens can, or can't, afford doesn't come into it. The point is we are providing this FREE OF CHARGE, along is nice accomodation and good meals out of our taxes. Take away the televisions and give them some hard work. And Marie ............ what's wrong with Chain Gangs? They could fill in a few potholes in the highways!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.


    So it's your view that law abiding citizens can't afford, Rent free accomodation, 3 square meals, heating & lighting, a tv of their own, a tv licence, free education if desired... Unfortunately reality disproves your assertion unless I'm seeing an illusion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    I don't think it's solely a Tory view point to want to see proper punishment & rehabilitation of an offender where possible - where a serious crime has been committed. My own views are definately left of centre (never voted Tory in my life!) but I do like to see justice & fairness...

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    There seems to be a lot of things about prisons in the news. TV's, mobile phones etc. Looks like the Tories are going for the old vote winner " tough on crime". Call me a cynic but I think the Tory propaganda machine is getting it's little gears whirring away. What a coincidence we have a new right wing justice minister. Nearly fell for it. Last post on this crap.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    I was amazed to see the pictures of Anders Brevik's prison a few weeks ago - it was reminiscent of, and slightly more luxurious than, my university accommodation - admittedly this was a long time ago.
    Watching TV is too passive and relaxing - surely it would be better for prisoners to be doing something constructive, productive and challenging.

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    156 Golgotha
    Here's a few things:-
    Rent free accomodation, 3 square meals, heating & lighting, a tv of their own, a tv licence, free education if desired......

    No one else in society gets all that, only a convicted criminal it seems. I'm not suggesting we have chain gangs! (though prisoners should earn their keep) - merely making the point that a tv in EVERY SINGLE CELL is a step too far!

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    138 What a load of nonsense! If someone has never committed a crime why on earth should they be 'made to try prison to see what it's like'? If someone's committed a crime serious enough to warrant prison then it's right they should be taken out of society & not have their crime rewarded with 'treats' paid for by the law abiding who cannot afford these things themselves/may be victims of crime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.


    What exactly are they being handed that any law abiding citizen can't afford?

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    It would be nicer if we could provide prisoners with more meaningful activity in the form of education or employment. It is however, cheaper to provide tv as a tool of entertainment. I know prison is a place of punishment and many believe that this is a luxury/reward, Mentally, no stimulation can be harmful. This would require more medical services and disruption in prisons would rise

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    #70 marieOf course you do not have a say nor should you.You have an elected representative to do the saying for you..The purpose of prison is to deprive you of your liberty, not to be as barbaric as possible.#

    Hardly barbaric to ensure criminals are not being rewarded for their crimes by being handed on a plate more than the law abiding can afford themselves!

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    TV in a prison isnt like having a tv at home. You dont get to watch what you want when you want. Until you've experienced what prison is like you can't comment on it intelligently. TV is a means of controlling prisoner behavior. Lock yourself in a 12'x7' room with a TV and nothing else and see how much of a luxury it is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    Why should prisoners be exempt from the mind numbing TV rubbish foisted on the general public, that's punishment in itself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    Criminals should punished for bad behaviour, not rewarded for good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    62 So precisely where is the money used to pay the wages of the prison officers at these DCMF prisons ultimately coming from:
    A: from the private company
    B: From the money the DOJ pays the private company to run the prison on behalf of the nation
    C: From the tax payer who gives tax to the government for the DOJ for prisons.
    D from the magic money tree.


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