Prisoners should have internet access to help with education, resettlement and recreation, a report argues.
The report says there need to be sanctions for breaking the rules
The report Internet Inside, published by the Forum on Prisoner Education charity, said this was essential to prepare inmates for life after release.
It also calls for them to have access to e-mail.
The government is planning to try giving prisoners the internet but only in an open prison, which the charity says is unduly cautious.
Forum director Steve Taylor said: "There really is something wrong with our prisons when countries such as Hungary, Greece and Russia provide internet access to prisoners but we do not.
"Government are being very slow to act on this issue and are in breach of Council of Europe recommendations. We hope that our report will lead to swift action."
The report says that in Switzerland, for example, prisoners undergo a short training course on acceptable use before being allowed onto the net.
If they break the rules, access is taken away.
"This hasn't led to a meltdown on the Swiss penal system," said Mr Taylor.
Hitherto prisoners have not had internet access because of fears they might view pornography, intimidate witnesses or even plot an escape.
But director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, Frances Crook, said many of the concerns were "spurious", adding that prisoners already had contact with the world through letters and phone calls.
She said the main concern was that prisoners would try to contact their victims, but that it was not beyond the Prison Service to introduce safeguards against that.
"It's essential that everyone has access to technology. It's part of their training, they wouldn't be getting the internet in their cells," she said.
"It is so they can come out, get jobs and pay tax. Otherwise they will go back to crime. That's the choice that has to be made."
But the Prison Service was understandably "paranoid" about introducing new initiatives, added Ms Crook, because they were so often heavily criticised for it in the press.
A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "The government agrees that use of information and communications technology to support learning, including appropriate access to web-based material, is increasingly important in improving the skills and employability of offenders.
"It is driving this agenda forward in prisons and tackling the challenge to deliver ICT skills and e-learning access while maintaining security."
Experimental access is expected to begin at Leyhill open prison in Gloucestershire later this year.
But Mr Taylor said it should be tried in a high-security prison.
"The government are concentrating on trying to create a secure internet, which is just not possible when faced with a prisoner with considerable IT knowledge," he said.
"We need to have unrestricted access, with known rules and boundaries, and close monitoring.
"Prison authorities might just be surprised by how positively prisoners would respond."
Why is the British penal system obsessed with ensuring prisoners (who by their actions have forfeited their right to be amongst society at large) have as many perks as possible? Wrong emphasis - focus on helping victims of crime.
Nick, Woking, Surrey, UK
This is an excellent idea. To further isolate prisoners by denying access to technology such as the net further increases chances of falling into the cycle of re-offending. If they could be taught to use computers/rudimentary use of spreadsheets/internet/e-mail they might be able to use these life skills to look for work/seek support etc when released or just interact with society. Just restrict access to unsuitable sites as is done in schools! And remove access for those who break the rules.
Jason, London, UK
While I think that giving prisoners access to email would give them greater contact with family members who may not be able to visit regularly I am uneasy that more money seems to be spent making prisoners lives easier than improving our schools. If there was more money for schools, education, dinners, advisors then we might not need so many prisons.
Laura, Crystal Palace, UK
Some of these people won't even have internet access at there own homes so why should the taxpayer now pay for this? The UK prison system is fast becoming the recreational ground for the wrongdoers of society all paid for by yours truly the taxpayer.
Colin Walker, Northwich UK
I was in prison (not open) for 18 months during the 1990s. Inmates 'inside' are usually treated by the staff as though everything they say and do is likely to be dishonest and, sadly, this was true more often than not. Supposedly monitored phone access is habitually used to threaten and intimidate family, friends, witnesses etc. The woefully underfunded and understaffed education facilities in our prisons need so much improvement, but internet access should be a long way down on the list of priorities. Education is doubtless the key to progress in the outside world, but more teaching materials, staff and most important, TIME are what is needed.
What is the world coming too, soon it will be more comfortable and have more up to date facilities in prison......why do the honest citizens have to pay for the villains to have such comfort
Cliff Aves, Peterborough United Kingdom
Prisoners are in jail for a reason, they were found guilty by a jury and a judge sentenced them to a period to incarceration. Yes as human beings they have rights however as criminals I do not feel they should be given luxuries, internet access is not a basic human right it is a luxury item. I would rather that my tax money was spent on funding the NHS or improving the public transport system rather than giving criminals access to Google.
Stephen Mortimer, Reading, UK
Make them pay £15.99 a month like the rest of us and maybe there will be some benefit.
Phil, Waterlooville, Hampshire
This is certainly concerning - unrestricted access to the Internet (with or without monitoring) is dangerous. Someone with substantial IT knowledge could cause real problems such as hacking the Prison Network etc. Working in IT Support as I do, I would trust that sufficient safe guards are put in place such as locking down access to certain sites, emails held on a central server to be checked before being sent etc. That said, with free Internet access, TVs in rooms etc, sounds more like a holiday camp than prison.
Fraser Dickson, Kent, UK
I think it is a travesty that there should be charities fighting for the "rights" of prisoners, ie convicted felons. What about the rights of the law abiding citizens these prisoners have affected? If I want access to the internet I have to pay a connection fee with money I have worked hard for. I think this idea is laughable, and I hope that people already living of tax payers do not get any more privileges.
Prison is about rehabilitation, not incarceration. Properly monitored and supervised, internet access for prisoners is an excellent idea.
Russell Long, UK