Irish Penal Reform Trust

‘Reopening prisons’: Easing of COVID-19 restriction measures

22nd June 2020

[Please note: this page is not static and is being updated as information changes. Last updated 25th June 2020.]

While many of the measures introduced by the Department of Justice and Equality and the Irish Prison Service in response to COVID-19 were proportionate to the risk posed, IPRT, led by international human rights guidance, believes that these restrictions should be in place for the shortest possible timeframe.

In mid-March, in-person family visits to prisons in Ireland were gradually reduced before being suspended completely on 27th March. It is important these and other restrictions are safely eased in line with public health advice, and in line with the easing of measures in place in other residential settings. Decisions on the reinstatement of visits – particularly children’s visits – must be continuously guided by public health advice, rather than security concerns.

On 23rd June, the Irish Prison service announced plans for the phased recommencement of physical visits to prisons from 20th July 2020. IPRT welcomed the announcement but stressed that video visits should remain as an option to supplement contact even after physical visits fully resume. IPRT is also hopeful that the phases could possibly be accelerated if infection rates remain low and if public health guidance allows.

While the Irish Prison Service’s response to COVID-19 has been successful in keeping prisoners COVID-19-free (at the time of writing), it now has the opportunity to extend its use of best practice to the easing of restrictions across the prison estate.

Below, IPRT has gathered examples of prison administrations internationally who have eased or who are beginning to ease their COVID-19 restriction measures relating to in-person visiting. Resources on this page will be curated over the coming weeks. EuroPris are collating responses by prisons in Europe on a daily basis.

Some common themes from international responses to easing COVID-19 restrictions include:

  • basic health screenings on entry to prison (including temperature checks)
  • adaptions to visiting centres (using larger rooms, outdoor visits)
  • hygiene precautions (handwashing/sanitising stations)
  • protective equipment (including gloves, facemasks – in some cases, this is offered by the prison)
  • distancing regulations (maintaining the level of social distance as directed by the State)
  • limits on the number and duration of visits

Many prison systems internationally are re-starting visits according to infection rates in individual prisons. Given the success of the Irish prison system in keeping COVID-19 from entering the prison population completely, this suggests Ireland is well-placed to recommence in-person visiting, in line with public health advice.

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England & Wales
National guidance has been provided to ensure an estate-wide consistent basis for governors to make decisions according to their local circumstances. No specific dates have been given for reopening, instead, this will be decided based on infection rates.


Belgium
The Belgian Minister of Justice announced that authorising physical visits would start from 25 May 2020. Each prisoner was allowed one visit per week, preferably always from the same person. Children were not yet be admitted, and distancing measures remained in place. Info in English sourced here.
From 18th June, prisoners who are entitled to visits may receive a visit, subject to compliance by visitors, of a maximum 3 people per visit, with a maximum of 2 adult visitors e.g. 2 adults or 1 adult with 2 children or 2 adults with 1 child. Info sourced here.


Czech Republic
Visits are limited to one person per prisoner and visitors are obliged to sign a ‘declaration of good health’ and wear a mask (or otherwise cover his/her nose and mouth). Info in English sourced here.
 

Denmark
On the 18th May, a limited reopening of visits was introduced. Prisoners with children were granted one visit of up to two children and one accompanying adult per fortnight. All prisoners could receive visitors under normal conditions from 12th June.


France
From 2nd June two visitors are authorized per detainee; in particular, an adult visitor may be accompanied by a child under the age of 16. Info in English sourced here.


Italy
In many prisons in Italy, family visits have restarted but the prison administration decides how many people can access the prison according to circumstances of the facility. Info in English sourced here.


Netherlands
As of 16 June all prisons will gradually open for visits. Detainees can receive one visitor a week for one hour. The visitor can take one child with them aged up to 4 years old. Info in English sourced here.

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.

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