On behalf of prisoners’ families, Pact warmly welcomes today’s announcement of the phased introduction of video call facilities in prisons in England and Wales and praises Prisons Minister Lucy Frazer QC MP for this compassionate and progressive step.

The Ministry of Justice announcement confirmed that secure video calls will be introduced to prisons across England and Wales to maintain vital family contact for prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Following a successful trial at HMP Berwyn, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) is installing the video calling technology at 10 prisons with a rollout across the prison estate expected in the coming weeks. The measure is part of wider action to preserve family ties after social visits in prisons were suspended, to comply with the Government’s guidance on controlling the spread of Coronavirus and protecting life.

The first institutions to begin video calls are: HMPs Berwyn, Bronzefield, Downview, Eastwood Park, Garth, High Down, Hull, Wayland, Werrington and Wetherby. 

Prisons and Probation Minister Lucy Frazer QC MP, said:

“Prisoners have seen drastic changes to their daily routines to protect local health services and save lives. A part of that has been the loss of social visits – something we know plays a huge role in prisoners’ wellbeing and rehabilitation. It is therefore right that we take proportionate steps to keep them in touch with their families by other means during the current pandemic.”

For many years now, Pact has called for video call technology to be introduced as an addition to normal social prison visits, based on the evidence from pilot schemes which have shown that this can be managed safely and securely. In normal times, video visits provide opportunities for prisoners to be ‘virtually visited’ by loved ones who for practical reasons may struggle to visit in person. This may include elderly or disabled relatives, or people who live at great distance from prisons in which family members are held, including those who are overseas.

Since March 24th, Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) has, in our view, quite rightly suspended normal visits, as part of a restricted regime to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

In response to today's announcement, Andy Keen-Downs, CEO of Pact said:

"All the evidence points to keeping prisoners’ family ties strong as the most effective means of ensuring that prisoners stay safe and have a home, a job, and the motivation to change. The introduction of secure video calls is therefore a great step forward in rehabilitation and we want to thank all the HMPPS staff who have worked hard to make this happen at such a challenging time.

As a charity which has supported prisoners and their families for over 120 years, and championed the cause of keeping families connected as a means to reducing reoffending, we understand all too well how very distressing the temporary suspension of visits has been, both for prisoners, and for their children and families. However, it was a step that we strongly recommended back in March as the right thing to do to save lives at a time when there were widespread fears of major outbreaks of COVID-19 in prisons. Whilst there have been some tragic deaths, the number of people affected by COVID-19 in prisons has thankfully been nowhere near the level that we feared. We now want to take this opportunity to applaud the thousands of brave staff in prisons who are working so hard to keep prisoners safe, and to recognise the vital contribution of prisoners themselves in cooperating with the new regimes in order to minimise the spread of the disease and to protect one other, and prison staff and their families."

Pact operates as an independent ‘critical friend’ to the prison system, and we have called for increased phone credit for prisoners to call home, and for video calls. We have been delighted to see the recent increase in phone credit being given to prisoners, and the introduction of SIM-locked mobiles into prisons which don’t already have in-cell phones. We offer our full support to HMPPS in advising and guiding prisoners’ families in how to make use of the new video calling technology.

Published: 15th May 2020