On 2nd and 3rd December the Bishop of Gloucester received written answers to three questions on prisoner release over Christmas and contact with family:
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to enable the release on temporary licence of people in prison during the Christmas period. [HL10507]
Baroness Scott of Bybrook:
Most release on temporary licence (ROTL) was suspended in March to help tackle the threat from Covid-19 but we have been working with the public health authorities to support prisons to re-introduce ROTL where it is safe and practicable to do so, and in line with restrictions on activity in the community.
Currently, therefore, ROTL is limited to key activities such as work, education, essential medical treatment and in compelling compassionate circumstances.
Decisions about release during the Christmas period will be taken in light of community restrictions in place at that time and in consultation with the public health authorities.
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what arrangements they have made, if any, to enable people in prison to maintain contact with family members where neither in-cell telephony or secure mobile phones are available. [HL10508]
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: To ask Her Majesty’s Government which prisons currently have video calling facilities to allow people in prison to maintain contact with family members; what plans they have, if any, to expand such facilities across the prison estate; and what the cost of video calls will be under any such plans. [HL10509]
Baroness Scott of Bybrook: We recognise that family contact provides a crucial lifeline for prisoners. Following the re-imposition of national restrictions on 5 November, we have paused face-to-face social visits in prisons in England, except on compassionate grounds, including visits to children in custody.
Family visits in Wales are permitted in line with restrictions in the community, although in some establishments with active outbreaks they have been temporarily suspended on public health grounds. We will reintroduce face-to-face social visits as soon as safe to do so, guided by public health advice alongside an operational assessment of what can safely be implemented.
For those prisons that do not have access to in-cell telephony, we introduced over 1,500 secure mobile handsets which can be used to contact family and friends via the usual PIN phone system. In addition, the Prison Voicemail service and Email a Prisoner service are available in all prisons. There are also further initiatives such as unmarked letter writing resources, ‘Bedtime Stories’ which allow residents to record themselves reading a story to their child, and opportunities to make items that they can send to them.
Secure video calls provide another option for families, including those with children of all ages, to stay in touch. Arrangements for secure video calls have been introduced in virtually all prisons across England and Wales. Details of which prisons are operating live services for families and friends can be accessed on GOV.UK. The remainder of the estate is expected to have these facilities by the end of December.
We have committed to the fact that there will be no cost of video calls to either families or those in custody during this time. At the appropriate time, we will consider future options for video calling across the estate beyond Covid-19 restrictions.
We continue to learn lessons from this to inform both the current service and longer-term planning in line with the recommendations of Lord Farmer’s reviews for maintaining family ties.