The future of prison call centres – where inmates are paid £3.40 a day to carry out lifestyle surveys and unearth potential customers for insurance companies – has been thrown into doubt following reports that convicted fraudsters have managed to acquire jobs manning the phones.
The issue has come to light after the Home Office admitted it has recently closed a call centre being run out of Category B High Down prison in Surrey, whose inmates are considered too much of an escape risk to be placed in lower security jails. It is believed to be the first centre to be axed.
It has since emerged that one of the operatives was convicted fraudster Antoni Muldoon, who was jailed for seven years for running a £5.7m telemarketing scam. The 71-year-old led a gang of seven who duped more than 17,000 victims into paying for bogus offers of escort agency work and debt elimination services. Around 14,000 people, mostly women, paid up to £450 each to join websites such as Beautiful Adults.
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said: “You really could not make this up: a conman convicted of a telemarketing scam being the chance to make cold calls while in prison. I’m all for the rehabilitation of prisoners and getting them ready for work but you would have thought fraudsters are the least suitable people for this.”
The first prison call centres were opened in 2013 at Oakwood, a Category C prison near Wolverhampton (pictured), and Drake Hill, a female prison in Staffordshire. The pilot scheme has since been rolled out to other jails.
Numbers are dialled off-site and transferred to the prisoners only when somebody picks up. However, prisoners do have access to customers’ names and email addresses. If consumers do show an interest, the call is transferred to registered brokers outside the prison.
The Prison Service said: “Where prisoners do work as call centre operatives, they have absolutely no access to personal or financial details and do not make sales. Offenders are rigorously risk-assessed for suitability for the role and all calls are supervised and monitored. Prisoners are not able to make outgoing calls – they are connected to customers through an automated system.”
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