Prisons on the Channel Islands are to become the first to use a secure virtual visit service working through a mobile app.
Guernsey’s Les Nicolles Prison and Jersey’s HM Prison La Moye are preparing to use the Purple Visits encrypted video call service, with the technology supplier saying that others around the UK could soon follow.
The installations have been completed after a year of discussions and planning and the service is expected to go into use in the next few weeks.
The app, which is available through the Apple Store and Play Store, includes a facial recognition mechanism to monitor the identities of virtual visitors of prison inmates.
Purple Visits director George Kyriacou said: “We use facial verification and recognition technology to ensure that the prisons’ duty to protect the public is not compromised when the men and women in custody use our system to keep in touch with their loved ones.”
The company runs the initial identity authentication process, which includes the provision of a photo, for family members who will want to use the service. When they use the app they provide a selfie which is then matched against the records to confirm their identity.
The service can be used from anywhere with an internet or 4G connection.
“The system has been in development for around three years and significant testing has been carried out to ensure ease of use for people in custody and their families, as well as supporting prisons’ duty to protect the public,” Kyriacou said.
He added that the Channel Islands prisons plan to count the virtual visits as one of those to which a prisoner is regularly entitled and will charge £10 per visit, which will make the scheme self-financing.
In addition, discussions have been taking place on the possible introduction of the service for prisons in the UK.
The charges for the visits have raised protests from prison reform groups, according to a report in The Guardian. It says the Prison Reform Trust and the Howard League for Penal Reform have described it as unfair and setting an unwelcome precedent.
But David Nicholls, governor of Les Nicolles Prison, said it would help families who could not afford to travel to the Channel Islands.
Image from Purple Visits