Prisoner Ombudsman Statement - Suspension of Prison Visits

Published on March 21 2020

The Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland is acutely aware of prisoner safety during the public health emergency. Covid-19 presents a threat to people who are considered to be vulnerable and many prisoners fall within this category. Their safety and the safety of prison officers and other staff essential to work within prisons must come first. The emergency situation and the decision to suspend prisoner visits presents additional challenges to the Prison Service and the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust in particular to ensure that persons deprived of their liberty are protected from inhuman or degrading treatment. The Prisoner Ombudsman is working closely with the Prison Service to ensure restrictive measures are proportionate and protect the safety and wellbeing of prisoners.

The Prisoner Ombudsman said,

“The decision taken by the Prison Service to end all visits to prisons from Monday 23rd March 2020 is regrettable but necessary to ensure the safety of those who are in custody and those visiting them. The additional duty of care to prison officers and others working in prisons has made this decision unavoidable in light of Public Health advice. Our personal responsibility to keep each other safe has been emphasised time and again, including by our own Health and Justice Ministers, First and Deputy First Ministers and the Prime Minister. I would ask that prisoners and their families make every effort to understand how they can play their part in ensuring the safety of others and of themselves. My Office will continue to monitor the situation and address concerns raised by prisoners and their families. These are challenging and difficult times but if we work together we can help flatten the curve.”

On Thursday 19th March, the Prisoner Ombudsman suspended all planned visits to prisons by her staff. She has made arrangements for monitoring, information and evidence gathering to continue and prisoners have the same access to the Office as they always had. Freephone access to the Office remains open for prisoners and phone and email access for their families.