Thousands of prisoners’ children haven’t seen their parents for a year

According to the BBC, some 300,000 children of UK prisoners have been “forgotten” during the pandemic, with some inmates limited to just one or two face-to-face visits.

Campaigners say the lack of physical contact with their parents has damaged children’s mental health and infringed upon their human rights.

A video call system was not fully rolled out until nine months after the start of the pandemic with call times limited to 30 minutes a month. The Ministry of Justice said its response saved lives.

Costed phone calls, letters and emails have been available throughout the pandemic. But campaign groups say face-to-face contact is crucial in maintaining the relationship between imprisoned parents and children.

“Children have been the hardest hit by this,” said Jodie Beck, co-founder of prisoner family support network Our Empty Chair.

She continued “”At the sharp end of this, we have heard from people who are terrified that, when their loved one is released, their children won’t recognise them. It will be like a stranger entering the home.”

The BBC has found that, while more than half of prisons resumed visits by the end of July, some 5,000 inmates had to wait until September or later.

Public Health England ceased in-person visits at prisons in England and Wales on 24 March last year on the assessment that between 2,500 and 3,500 prisoners were at risk of dying from Covid-19.

Facilities were not given the all-clear to reopen visiting halls again until 6 July, providing the Ministry of Justice approved the safety measures put in place at individual sites.

Strict safety precautions meant the visiting halls were installed with thick, clear screens between prisoners and their visitors.

Prisoners have been kept on 23-hour-a-day cell lockdowns for almost all of the pandemic. Gym sessions, training and prison jobs have been largely suspended.

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