12th December 2022
The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has today (Mon 12 December 2022) welcomed the news of the reinstatement of weekly physical visits in prisons in Ireland, which have recommenced from this morning.
The option to visit loved ones in-person who are in prison was removed in March 2020 under public health measures implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In May 2022, physical visits were gradually reinstated but limited to fortnightly visits (alongside video visits).
IPRT has previously identified an approximately 80% reduction in the number of children who physically visited an adult in prison between 2020 and 2021.
IPRT’s Executive Director, Saoirse Brady, emphasises how important reinstating weekly prison visits is for people in prison, their children, and their families.
"We in IPRT welcome today’s return to weekly prison visits for people in prison. While the suspension of physical visits was a necessary measure in response to the risks posed by COVID-19, families with a loved one in prison have been subjected to restrictions longer than most others. It has been incredibly tough on both people in prison and their families. The focus of the news today should be on the positives that flow from these visits and not only on security aspects.
Children, partners, and families having more opportunities to see their loved ones in prison before Christmas will likely have a hugely positive impact. Maintaining positive family contact has multiple benefits for the person in prison. Research shows that positive family contact is also a crucial factor in rehabilitation and reduces the likelihood of reoffending on release."
Ms. Brady continued:
"The additional conditions on visiting in place over the last number of years have resulted in a huge reduction in the number of children visiting their loved ones in prison. We have been hearing stories of children who were upset that they couldn’t give their loved one a hug, despite mask wearing. In some cases, the number of people who could go into a prison for a visit was limited, meaning larger families had to choose which of their children got to go to see their loved one.
The limiting of physical visits in prison has had a significant negative impact on people in prison too. Family members have told us of the huge concerns they have for the mental health of their family member in prison. This impact on mental health was particularly stark in the absence of physical family contact and the lack of emotional support available to prisoners.
It is important to emphasise that video calls have worked well, particularly for the many families who may face additional barriers such as access to transport, the cost of fuel for travelling or the length of time needed to travel to the prison. The choice of online video calls should therefore continue to be made available.”
IPRT welcome the news today that weekly physical visits are being reinstated but stress that there is still more to do in this area, including extending the duration of visits and expanding physical visits to include weekend and evenings to allow for times that suit family schedules.
While there is the capacity for prison visits to be booked online, IPRT note that families without online access or facilities to make an online booking need to be considered. In order to support them, sufficient resources need to be in place to accept calls to book prison visits.
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NOTES FOR EDITORS
The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort. See www.iprt.ie.
The Irish Penal Reform Trust was responding to the news of the recommencement of weekly physical visits from the Irish Prison Service announcement on RTÉ here.
IPRT remains concerned that the Prison (Amendment) Rules 2020, which allow suspension/restriction of entitlement to visits due to infectious disease, remain in place. These amendments have no sunset clause and IPRT has repeatedly urged the Minister to revoke or, at the least, limit these provisions.
Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), (2022). Thematic Submission by the Irish Penal Reform Trust for the 93rd Pre-Sessional Working Group of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (September 2022). Available from: https://www.iprt.ie/site/assets/files/7116/iprt_submission_to_united_nations_committee_on_the_rights_on_the_child_august_2022.pdf
Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), (2020). IPRT Submission to the Human Rights Committee on Ireland's Fifth Periodic Examination under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Suggested List of Issues for Ireland 130th Session of the Human Rights Committee (12 October to 6 November 2020). Available from: https://www.iprt.ie/site/assets/files/6798/iprt_submission_to_the_human_rights_committee_on_ireland.pdf.
Irish Penal Reform Trust, (IPRT). (2020). “I am worried about the lasting impact this will have”: The experiences of people with a family member in prison during COVID-19. Available from: https://www.iprt.ie/site/assets/files/6775/results_of_families_of_prisoners_survey_final_web-1.pdf.
Citizen’s Information, (2022). Visiting Someone in Prison. Available from: https://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/justice/prison_system/visiting_someone_in_prison.html.