Government is currently looking at possible options to facilitate remote contact
Credit: Paul Faith/PA
In 2017, Conservative peer Lord Farmer conducted a government-commissioned review titled The Importance of Strengthening Prisoners’ Family Ties to Prevent Reoffending and Reduce Intergenerational Crime.
One of his recommendations was the implementation of video visits for the family members of prisoners for whom face-to-face visits are difficult or impossible.
Shortly before the implementation of social distancing measures – which have seen all prison visits suspended – Farmer submitted a written parliamentary question asking what consideration had been given to his recommendation.
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Lord Keen of Elie, the Ministry of Justice’s spokesperson in the House of Lords, said that, in light of the coronavirus crisis, HM Prisons and Probation service is “urgently exploring options for the safe and secure use of video solutions in a range of establishments to facilitate family video calling”.
He added: “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.”
In the meantime, government has also rolled out 900 mobile phones with locked SIM cards. These are being issued to “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,” Keen said. “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.”
The 900 handsets have been given to a total of 55 institutions across England and Wales. A further 50 have in-cell telephony. This represents the majority of the overall tally of 117 prisons.