The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has welcomed plans for the gradual reintroduction of physical family visits to prisons by the Irish Prison Service.
Visits are set to recommence on a phased basis from Monday 20 July, almost three months after physical visits to Irish prisons were completely suspended.
Welcoming the announcement, IPRT executive director Fíona Ní Chinnéide said: “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. For people in prison and their families, each form of contact with loved ones can be a lifeline.”
Ní Chinnéide said that family video visits had been a positive alternative to physical visits.
What was once not possible pre-COVID-19, became possible in a matter of weeks thanks to innovation and collaboration, she noted.
“The national roll-out of video visits has meant that there are children who, some for the first time, are now able to show their parents their bedrooms, ask for help with their homework, or see their parent’s face while they sit down to eat dinner”.
She said it is crucial that video visits are retained even after physical visits are resumed fully as an option used to supplement contact and support maintenance of positive relationships.
In-cell telephones across the closed estate would further support family contact, and uphold the rights of children to have regular contact with their parent, the IRPT said.