On 29th March 2021 the Prison Service announced that prisons who have achieved ‘Stage 3’ status in the National Framework for Prisons can restart social visits. We know that for many people this has been exciting news, but you may have questions about what this means and what happens next.

Below, you will find some useful guidance for you and your loved ones.

What does Stage 3 mean?

Most prisons in England and Wales have been in Stage 4 which is called ‘lockdown’. This means that visits have been cancelled and most aspects of normal prison life (what they call ‘regime’) have been suspended. From 29th March 2021, prisons are allowed to move to Stage 3, which is called ‘restricted’, if they meet certain criteria. To be in Stage 3:

  • A prison must have Covid-19 infection rates under control.
  • Covid-19 testing and case monitoring must be happening.
  • A prison must have enough staff to support any activities.
  • The outside community must be at alert level 3 or lower.

Prisons that are still in Stage 4 cannot lift restrictions until approval has been granted for a move to Stage 3.

If a prison is in Stage 3 can I book a visit?

If a prison is in Stage 3 it does not automatically mean that social visits will restart straight away. Once a prison is in Stage 3 they can then start to work towards re-opening visits, once they have made sure all of the measures are in place to keep residents, families and staff safe. This includes working with their local charity partners like Pact.

Once everything is agreed, prisons can start to re-open booking lines and restricted visits.

Please remember: prisons that are in Stage 3 can move back to Stage 4 and go back into lockdown at any point if there is a rise in Covid-19 infections. If a prison goes back into Stage 4 then visits will not be possible due to the risks for both families and prisoners.

How will I know when visits are restarting in a prison?

We will keep our prison Visitors’ Guides as up to date as possible to let you know when you can book visits. You can also find out if a prison is offering visits by looking at its listing on this gov.uk webpage

You can also follow us on Twitter and follow the Prisoners’ Families Helpline on Twitter to see the latest updates. If a prison goes back into Stage 4 and has to cancel visits, we will update this on our Visitors’ Guides and social media.

What will visits be like when they restart?

In order to keep people safe, prison visits will still have restrictions in place for the time being. This unfortunately will mean that you will not be able to touch your loved one during your visit and you will still need to socially distance and wear a mask (unless you are medically exempt). There will also be restrictions on how many people can come to each visit.

We know that like many of us, you will be desperate to hug your loved one or hold their hand after so long without seeing them in person. The prison service is working towards getting normal visits back up and running as soon as it is safe to do so. Pact and other charities are doing their very best to support them in this. But for now we must stick to the rules of socially distancing, wearing a mask and regularly washing our hands until we can safely get back to normal.  

We know this will be really tough for many people, but our staff and volunteers will do their very best to make your visit as warm and welcoming as possible whilst restrictions are still in place.

We will let you know what restrictions will be in place during your visit on our prison Visitors’ Guides.

If you need support or information

If you would like any further information or support you can call the Prisoners’ Families Helpline for free, on 0808 808 2003. The lines are open Monday – Friday from 9am – 8pm and 10am – 3pm on weekends. You can also email them on [email protected] or complete the contact form on their website to request a call or email back. 

If you are worried about a loved one in prison or have a concern about their safety, you can find more information on what to do next by visiting www.prisonersfamilies.org/pages/category/need-urgent-help.

Published: 31st March 2021