Prisons: Visits

Ministry of Justice written question – answered on 27th March 2020.

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Photo of Lord Farmer Lord Farmer Conservative

To ask Her Majesty's Government, further to the report by Lord Farmer The Farmer Review: The Importance of Strengthening Prisoners' Family Ties to Prevent Reoffending and Reduce Intergenerational Crime, published in August 2017, what consideration they have given to the recommendation that prisons should ensure that virtual visits, using video calling technology, are available "for the small percentage of families or individual family members who cannot visit frequently or at all due to infirmity, distance or other factors".

Photo of Lord Farmer Lord Farmer Conservative

To ask Her Majesty's Government what guidance has been given to prison governors about visits from family and significant others during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo of Lord Keen of Elie Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice)

HMPPS recognises that families or significant relationships can play an important role in supporting prisoners to reduce their risk of reoffending following release. We have implemented a number of the recommendations from the 2017 Farmer Review and continue to publish updates on progress on these every six months.

Visits have been suspended after the Government took vital steps to limit travel and social interactions in order to limit the spread of the virus. In recognition of the importance of continued contact with family, however, the Government has moved swiftly to keep prisoners in touch with their family members by other means.

As part of new measures introduced because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ministers have approved the use of 900 locked SIM card handsets, allowing risk-assessed prisoners to speak to a small number of pre-authorised contacts.

Strict measures will ensure the phones are not misused with calls being time-limited and monitored closely. Additionally, handsets will include tamper-proof tape to prevent non-secure SIM cards being used.

As well as helping prisoners connect with their families, the phones will give prisoners access to support services such as the Samaritans, therefore reducing their risk of self-harm at a uniquely difficult time.

We are also urgently exploring options for the safe and secure use of video solutions in a range of establishments to facilitate family video calling. We expect that this approach will be available imminently to support the current situation, but beyond this, will consider how best to utilise the video-calling services to enable prisoners to maintain contact where they have historically not received regular visits.

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