Irish Penal Reform Trust

Northern Ireland: Parental contact allowed during prison visits

20th July 2021

As of 19 July, the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) re-introduced contact between parents and children under 11. This follows the resumption of in-person prison visits in Northern Ireland on 4 May.

Director general of NIPS, Ronnie Armour, emphasised that the re-introduction of contact between parents and children is an “important step for everyone in our prisons”, noting the “importance of family engagement in maintaining relationships and supporting rehabilitation”.

Justice Minister Naomi Long welcomed the announcement by NIPS, stating: “I fully appreciate this has been an incredibly difficult time for the people in our care, particularly those who have young children.”

This is in contrast to the situation in the Republic of Ireland, where physical visits to certain prisons have resumed (commencing gradually from 14 July) with restrictions in place, including that all visitors stay behind a Perspex screen with no physical contact between prisoners and family members permitted, and that visits must not exceed 15 minutes duration. Like NIPS, the Irish Prison Service (IPS) is limiting physical visits to one adult and one child.

IPRT made recommendations in relation to family visits in our Irish Prisons and COVID-19: One Year On briefing, including lifting the blanket limit on the number of children permitted to visit and extending in-person visits to at least 30 minutes. We are continuing to engage with stakeholders on these issues.

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