Further to the recent letter from Director General Prisons Phil Copple, HMPPS has this week provided further information for families and loved ones on how they can help to keep prisoners safe.

Visits and testing 

Social visits are still being offered in prisons. Prisons are a high-risk environment due to the large number of people living and working close together, but HMPPS will continue to do their best to keep visits open and safe. Legal visits will also continue.

Because the new COVID variant is likely to spread quickly we need to do all we can to keep it out of prisons. All visitors aged 12 and over must now take a lateral flow test before coming to a prison and show proof that the result was negative. 

This could be: 

  • A time-stamped photo of the negative test taken on the day of the visit, or
  • The text or email you received from the NHS when you registered the result online

Children aged 11 and under do not need to take a test.  

You will still be able to have physical contact with the person you are visiting during your visit, but you will all need to wear a mask or face covering. 

If you or someone visiting with you cannot take a test for medical reasons, we will need you to bring some written evidence explaining why this is. 

If a visit does have to be postponed because of contact with a positive case or because of a positive test result, it will be re-booked and it won’t have an impact on the visits allocation.  

Visitors must follow social distancing rules inside the prison and visits hall. This means staying at least two metres apart from others except the prisoner they are visiting. Masks or face coverings must be worn at all times. 

Unfortunately, due to the increased risk from Omicron, prisons cannot provide refreshments and creche facilities for social visits for now. We want to reintroduce them again as soon as it is safe to do so. 

Individual establishments may also have to alter the way they operate visits – sometimes at short notice to keep everyone as safe as possible. 

Other COVID-19 testing to keep everyone safe 

All prisoners are asked to take a test when entering a prison, and staff will continue to take regular tests.

PIN credit and secure social video calling  

HMPPS are reintroducing the additional £5 PIN phone credit per week for all prisoners in establishments at Stage 3 or Stage 4 of the National Framework, which accounts for the vast majority of prisoners currently. At least one free video call per prisoner per month is also offered to make sure they have other options, besides visits, to stay in touch with the people they care about

Release on temporary license (ROTL) 

ROTL placements are currently allowed to continue on the condition that all prisoners agree to take part in regular testing. When this testing is required will depend on the type and frequency of ROTL release and will be clearly set out by the prison and in the individual’s license.

Vulnerable prisoners 

Shielding is still available for vulnerable prisoners who want it, and prisons will continue to provide the necessary facilities and services. 

Vaccines for prisoners 

Prisons are supporting the NHS to deliver vaccines to prisoners. We want to ensure that all prisoners accept the offer of vaccination and information is being provided to help them decide. If you would like to review the latest guidance on vaccines it is available on the NHS website. 

Social distancing 

Social distancing will be reintroduced in prisons, which means keeping people at least two metres apart. This is necessary to protect prisoners as they are in a high-risk environment due to a lot of people living closely together.  

If you have any questions, please contact the Prisoners’ Families Helpline on 0808 808 2003.