Prisons and young offender institutions (YOIs) in England and Wales are to get the technology for inmates to make secure video calls to their families.
The Prison and Probation Service is installing the technology at 10 institutions following trials at HM Prison Berwyn and HMYOI Wetherby, with plans for a wider roll out in the coming weeks.
It said the measure is part of wider action to preserve family ties after social visits in prisons and YOIs were suspended, to comply with the government’s guidance on controlling the spread of coronavirus.
It also responds to an element of the Lord Farmer Review of 2017 that found that close bonds between prisoners and family members can significantly reduce their risk of reoffending.
The calls will be provided through secure laptops fitted with Purple Visits video conferencing software in a designated room in each institution. They will be arranged either by prisoners making a call request to their designated contact or by families who can request a time slot through a mobile app or directly with the establishment.
Safeguards are being put in place, with all participants vetted in advance, calls to be time-limited and monitored by prison staff, and restrictions built into the software to ensure safe use. These include pausing a call if another person who has not been approved appears on-screen.
Prisons and Probation Minister Lucy Frazer MP, said: “Prisoners have seen drastic changes to their daily routines to protect local health services and save lives. A part of that has been the loss of social visits – something we know plays a huge role in prisoners’ wellbeing and rehabilitation.
“It is therefore right that we take proportionate steps to keep them in touch with their families by other means during the current pandemic.”
Nick Leader, governor of HMP Berwyn, said he expected the technology to support resettlement planning, improve relations with staff and reduce the strain from the current restrictions.
The first institutions to begin providing calls are HMPs Berwyn, Bronzefield, Downview, Eastwood Park, Garth, High Down, Hull, Wayland, Werrington and Wetherby.
The move reflects the Government’s recognition of the importance of maintaining family ties, particularly at women’s prisons, young offender institutions and jails without in-cell telephones. In March, it introduced 900 secure phone handsets which have been rolled out across the prison estate.
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