Prisoners able to see family thanks to virtual visit scheme

The coronavirus outbreak has meant inmates have gone almost 13 weeks without seeing relatives.

Visits: The scheme will allow prisoners to connect with family.
Visits: The scheme will allow prisoners to connect with family.

Reporting by Ronnie Charters

Prisoners are being given the opportunity to see their families for the first time in weeks thanks to virtual visits.

The Scottish Prison Service facilitated the scheme, which lets inmates see their family and friends using video calling technology, after visits were stopped due to the threat of coronavirus.

The virtual visits are launched in Polmont, Cornton Vale and Shotts prisons on Tuesday, with more set to follow.

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STV News has spoken to one family, who wish to remain anonymous, who were delighted to see their loved one again.

“I can’t explain it but it was just amazing, brilliant just having him there in front of us again,” they said.

“It’s been really tough especially for the kids, but having them see their father face to face it will be a big help for him and for them.

“Just to see his face and know that everything is alright is a huge weight off our shoulders and a big relief.

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“In terms of his mental health it was getting to him not seeing his kids and you could tell he wasn’t being himself on the phone.”

Tom Fox from the Scottish Prison Service said: “Family visits are a very important part of rehabilitating people back into society.

“We have unfortunately had to cancel family visits and we are in week 13 of that and recognise the impact that that has not only on the people within our care, but also with their friends and families as well.

“We have been working very hard to make virtual visits a reality and we are pleased to be rolling this out.

“Whilst we know this is not a substitute for people seeing their loved ones, we are sure this will be great assistance to families, particularly children to be able to see fathers and mothers who they maybe haven’t seen for nearly three months.”

There have been questions surrounding whether the scheme can help families who are unable to access laptops or tablets in order to access the project.

However the SPS say they are working on connecting everyone who needs it.

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Mr Fox added: “We already have some discussions with partner agencies. Most people have some degree of connectivity to the internet but this system works best with laptops and with tablets.

“We recognise that for some people, that maybe a challenge and that is something we still have work to do with partner agencies to see how we can help those people.”

Families Outside is one charity which has welcomed the new scheme.

Nancy Loucks, CEO of Families Outside, said: “It’s a very easy group for people to forget because we don’t think about people who go to prison and the people who are left behind.

“We do know that having that personal and family connection reduces the rate of reoffending by up to six times so it is considerable.”

Ms Loucks also commented on the availability of the scheme for poorer families.

“I suppose another concern is what capacity these families have to engage in these visits.

“Do they have access to free WiFi, the equipment that they need, the data that they need?

“Often these families are in very difficult financial situations and having that connection through IT can be quite difficult.”

The scheme is expected to be rolled out to other prisons in Scotland over the coming weeks, with bosses anticipating they will be available at all prisons by the end of the month.

Almost 350 prisoners have been released early from Scottish jails during a programme to protect offenders from the spread of Covid-19.

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