We all recognise the value and importance of family contact and the impact of the necessary restrictions that the Scottish Prison Service has had to put in place on those in custody and their families. It has been challenging for all involved. Throughout the pandemic, the SPS and the Scottish Government have been working on ways to support those in custody and their families to maintain contact. Virtual visits are a key part of that.
To answer Mary Fee’s question directly, by 7 February 2021, more than 29,500 virtual prison visits had taken place.
With restrictions on travel and on prison visits, digital visits will have been a lifeline for many, as they support both the welfare and mental health of prisoners. In light of the fact that more than 1,200 prisoners are currently self-isolating, what support is being given to prison activities, including digital visits? Can the cabinet secretary assure me that digital prison visits will continue after the pandemic? If so, will they be as available as they are currently, or will they be scaled back?
There are a few questions in there, and I will attempt to answer them. First, I put on record Mary Fee’s long-standing interest in and championing of the rights of families that have a member who is, unfortunately, incarcerated in prison.
Virtual visits have been a lifeline, as Mary Fee rightly describes them, for many people in our care. To answer the final question directly, it is absolutely our desire in the Scottish Government to ensure that virtual visits can continue after the pandemic because of the success of their roll-out and the impact that they have had.
On the current situation, in which a number of prisoners are self-isolating—predominantly in HMP Kilmarnock, HMP Addiewell and HMP Dumfries—some virtual visits had to be suspended on public health grounds. I give an assurance to Mary Fee that mobile phones and in-cell telephony are still available to enable family contact. The SPS is looking at what more can be done to ensure that there is contact between those who are in prison and their families outside.