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London - Prisoners will have telephones in their cells so they can keep in touch with their families, the Justice Secretary will announce today.

David Gauke hopes the £7million scheme giving inmates privacy to speak to loved ones will boost rehabilitation.

But critics met the plan with disbelief and have likened jails to ‘holiday camps’.

In most prisons, offenders have to queue to use communal phones – but this is often a source of friction and can trigger violence. It also fuels the trade in mobile phones smuggled in illegally.

Cell telephones are already in place at 20 prisons and there are plans to extend them to another 20 in the next two years, before rolling them out across all jails. They are subject to strict security measures – with all calls recorded and only pre-approved numbers available for inmates to dial.

The calls are paid for by prisoners buying phone cards.

In a speech in London today, Mr Gauke will say: ‘Decency extends to how we treat prisoners – fairly and consistently, with time out of their cells, activities, and the opportunity to maintain family relationships. Supportive relationships are critical to achieving rehabilitation.’

But Tory MP Philip Hollobone said recently: ‘Prisons are meant to be prisons, not holiday camps. Most people will be outraged that these sort of freedoms are being given to those who are supposed to be being punished.’

Among other plans for reform, crime kingpins will be sent to maximum security prisons to stop them running multi-million-pound rackets from their cells.