Pact warmly welcomes the latest update from the Ministry of Justice that video calling technology will soon be made available in all public sector prisons in England and Wales.

Writing in a guest blog for Clinks, Lucy Frazer QC MP, Minister of State for Justice, states that by the end of August 2020, ‘video calls will be available to female prisoners and to all young people in the youth estate’ and ‘the majority of the male estate will… be rolling calls out to their whole population’. In response, Pact has written to Minister Frazer, welcoming her pledge to roll out video calling technology across the prison estate, and thanking her for her continued commitment to the recommendations in Lord Farmer’s reports, which recognise family ties as the golden thread running through prison reform.

As a champion for prisoners’ families, Pact has been urging the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to provide video calling facilities for prisoners and their families since before the prison lockdown on March 24th. We know how crucial it is for prisoners and their loved ones to keep in touch, and after the global lockdown forced the suspension of in-person visits, we pushed even harder for the MoJ to speed up the rollout of video calling technology across all public sector prisons in England and Wales. We are reassured that this promise has now been made.

But as lockdown measures start to ease in our communities, we must not forget the enormity of the challenges still faced by prisoners and their families. Very limited prison visits for families are only now starting to be reintroduced in some prisons. Mothers and fathers in prison are only now starting to be reunited with their children after four months of near-complete isolation. We know that the long-term separation of children and families is damaging for family relationships and for good mental health - both of which are vital for rehabilitation. It’s more important than ever that we find new and permanent ways for prisoners to keep in touch with their loved ones.

We are now strongly urging the MoJ to make prison video calls a permanent feature of the ‘new normal’: an extra way for loved ones to keep in touch with each other, in addition to the social visits which are crucial for so many children, families and people in prison. We are also calling on the government to guarantee as a matter of principle that the video calls remain free of charge to families, many of whom already struggle with poverty or are under extreme financial pressure. At the very least, we need assurance that video calling will be no more expensive than the video calling platforms in the community we have become accustomed to using.

We have also offered to work with the MoJ and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service to facilitate constructive conversations with prisoners’ families about the future of video calls. We will continue to empower prisoners’ families to be their own advocates, and ensure that their voices are heard.

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Published: 6th August 2020