Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Questions (150)

Joan Collins

Question:

150. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Justice the number of visits to prisons that took place with a child present in 2020 and to date in 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57855/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I can advise the Deputy that a total of 11,079 children physically visited an adult in prison in 2020 and 2,238 children physically visited an adult in prison in 2021.

The Prison Service is acutely aware of the importance of assisting prisoners to maintain close contact with family and friends while in custody. Families and friends play an important and supportive role in the rehabilitation of prisoners and in their preparation for life in the community post release.

The Deputy will be aware that in order to protect the prison population from the risk of Covid-19, a number of infection control measures were introduced throughout 2020 and 2021. Regrettably, this included the suspension of physical visits to prisoners for extended periods of time. The Irish Prison Service introduced a new video visit system to ensure that prisoners could continue to have visual contact with their families throughout this time.

In 2020, physical visits were suspended from March to July across all prisons. Physical visits continued to operate with protective measures until September 2020 when they were again suspended in line with the then Framework for Prison Restrictions for Living with Covid-19.

The Prison Service restored physical visits in December 2020 to allow prisoners to have a physical visit during the Christmas period however, following the Government announcement on 23 December, 2020 physical visits were again suspended. They remained suspended until July 2021 when they were restored on a phased basis in line with the roll out of the Covid-19 vaccination programme.

As the Deputy will appreciate, the operation of physical visits is kept under constant review and is subject to a number of critical factors including: latest Government and Public Health advice; the need to maintain infection control measures; the level of prevalence of Covid-19 in the community, and the level of vaccination of prisoners. Any decisions regarding the operation of physical visits is guided by HSE/Public Health advice at all times.

In addition to the roll out of video visits, the Prison Service has introduced a number of initiatives to allow families to continue to communicate with and support those in custody. These included the roll out of in-cell telephones and the provision of additional telephone calls for prisoners and the introduction of Electronic Funds Transfer and An Post Bill Pay service to allow families to continue to lodge money to prisoner accounts.

Finally, I can advise the Deputy that these new measures, including the video visit system have proven very successful with both prisoners and their families and will be continued to be offered by the Irish Prison Service as an additional means of family support going forward.