BBC News

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

By Kayte Rath
Political reporter, BBC News

image captionWomen prisoners watch Hollyoaks on E4 but men no longer get Sky Sports News

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.

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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