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Dublin: 18 °C Thursday 13 August, 2020
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Prison visits to resume across two phases

The Irish Prison Service suspended visits in March because of the pandemic.

Mountjoy Prison in Dublin.
Mountjoy Prison in Dublin.
Image: Shutterstock

THE RETURN OF prison visits will be conducted across two phases, the Irish Prison Service announced today. 

Visits were suspended in March because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Before restrictions were announced to prevent the spread of the virus, Irish prisons would have received over 4,500 visitors a week. 

Prison visits will begin again on 20 July, with all prisoners entitled to receive one physical visit per fortnight of 15 minutes or less. 

Prisoners will be allowed to opt for two video visits instead, while physical visits will be limited to one adult. 

They’ll also be allowed one video visit of 15 minutes per fortnight. 

Physical visits will now look very different, with all visiting to be carried out behind Perspex screens and visitors required to wear a face covering at all times. 

The Irish Prison Service also stipulated that there be no physical contact between prisoners and family members.

From 17 August, the number of people allowed to visit will increase to two – and children will be allowed to visit. 

Other measures, such as a ban on physical contact, will remain in place. 

A statement from the Irish Prison Service said that “the operation and frequency of visits will be kept under ongoing review guided both by public health advice and a desire to support as much contact as possible between prisoner and their families”.

Since the start of the pandemic, no prisoners in Ireland have tested positive for the virus – a fact that attracted international attention and saw the Irish prison service submit a paper to the World Health Organization on its approach to the Covid-19 outbreak. 

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The Irish Penal Reform Trust today welcomed the plans. 

“While the suspension of physical visits was a necessary measure in response to the risks posed by COVID-19, it has been incredibly tough on both prisoners and their families. It has been a deeply worrying time for families anxious about the health of their loved one in prison, and for people in prison feeling helpless concern for their families in the community,” said Fíona Ní Chinnéide, Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust.

The trust is calling for video visits to remain an option for prisoners even when physical visits are fully returned. 

“One of the positives to have come out of the response to Covid-19 in Irish prisons is the national roll-out of family video visits as an alternative to physical visits. What was once not possible pre-Covid-19, became possible in a matter of weeks thanks to innovation and collaboration,” Ní Chinnéide said. 

“Video visits should be an option used to supplement contact and support maintenance of positive relationships, and not as a replacement for physical visits.”

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