Prisoners are being handed laptops so they can order treats from their cells, it was revealed yesterday.
Criminals also use the taxpayer-funded devices to select meals and sign up for educational courses as part of rehabilitation.
Prisoners have been given in-cell telephones as well to stay in touch with friends and family.
The scheme emerged in a report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons into HMP Wayland near Thetford, Norfolk, which holds some of Britain’s most dangerous offenders.
Prisoners at HMP Wayland in Norfolk are being given in-cell phones to keep in touch with their friends and family while serving their sentences
Inspectors found illicit alcohol, drugs and scores of mobile phones that had been smuggled in. Critics will seize on the findings as fresh evidence that jails are too cushy.
Inmates use the laptops, called net books, to buy food including chocolate bars, tinned fruit, tea bags and coffee, toiletries, stamps and batteries from the prison shop system.
Although they do not have internet access, they can choose items from a list approved by the Ministry of Justice if there is enough money in their prison ‘account’, which holds cash earned in jail or sent in by family.
Meanwhile the report said 500 litres of illicitly-brewed alcohol, enough to stock a pub, was found in cells at the Category C jail, which has 951 inmates including more than 100 serving life sentences. A kilo of drugs – worth tens of thousands of pounds – and 177 illegally smuggled mobile phones were also found.
The watchdog detailed how the jail had taken part in a ‘digitalisation project’. Its report said: ‘These small laptop computers enabled prisoners to take responsibility for day-to-day tasks such as submitting applications, selecting meal choices and ordering from the prison shop, without having access to the internet.
‘Prisoners whose net book was removed for poor behaviour or who chose not to have one could access the same services using kiosks in communal wing areas.’
Inmates use the laptops, called net books, to buy food including chocolate bars, tinned fruit, tea bags and coffee, toiletries, stamps and batteries from the prison shop system
A list of available products, approved every three months by the National Offender Management Service, has up to 1,000 items on it.
Each prison can whittle this down to 375 products at any one time and inmates fill in forms to purchase the goods, which are ordered by the authorities.
Since the previous inspection of HMP Wayland in 2013, telephones had been installed in all cells.
Prisoners were ‘positive’ about the move but restrictions had been placed on their use during the day because inmates were making calls rather than attending workshops.
Inspectors said: ‘Access to in-cell telephones and secure laptops that eased access to administrative systems was, in our view, the way forward and an example of good practice.’
There have been calls for greater use of technology behind bars to boost prison education programmes and the ability of inmates to stay in touch with their families.
But last week it emerged convicts were being paid for ‘cold-calling’ from some jails, and were trusted to harvest sensitive information.
They are picking up £3.40 a day to call potential customers for insurance policies. They also carry out marketing surveys.
One of the cold-callers was conman Antoni Muldoon, 71, who was jailed for seven years for fraud for running a £5.7million telemarketing scam with thousands of victims.
In his report on HMP Wayland, Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said: ‘The prison was very well led, while plans for improvement were active and substantive, taking the prison forward in a positive direction.’
Michael Spurr, of HM Prison and Probation Service, said: ‘The Chief Inspector has commended the positive work being done at Wayland to tackle violence and drug use and to support effective rehabilitation.’
There are strict controls to ensure inmates are unable to abuse the technology, with in-cell phones limited to pre-approved numbers with ‘robust restrictions’, says the MoJ.
A Prison Service spokesman said telephones in cells ‘reduce violence and lower self-harm’.