Justice Minister Naomi Long has welcomed Prison Service plans to remove many restrictions introduced in response to Covid-19, including the re-introduction of in-person contact visits.
The six-week road to recovery sets out what the Prison Service aims to have in place by Monday, April 4 as it emerges from the pandemic. Other key decisions include the full reintroduction of in-person learning and skills, rehabilitative programmes and pre-release testing.
Naomi Long said: “Like all front-line services, it will take some time for the Prison Service to fully recover from the past two years, however by working with delivery partners our prisons will be ready for that challenge. The plans announced today give the Service a chance to recover, refocus and renew.
“Setting out this road to recovery is an important, measured and significant decision by the Prison Service. Keeping Covid out of our prisons has been my priority since March 2020 and with only 15 positive cases in the general population, the Service can be rightly proud of the work they have done to keep people safe.
“Among a range of work over the next six weeks will be plans to re-introduce contact visits, which I know will be welcomed by prisoners and their families. I am particularly pleased that virtual visits will also continue as they have been one of the great successes since their introduction in April 2020.
“I would like to acknowledge the work prison staff, and indeed others most notably our healthcare colleagues, have done to support the people in our care through the pandemic. No-one should underestimate the challenges they faced. However it is right that they now take the appropriate steps for recovery as we all learn to live with the virus.”
Recovery will include the following measures:
- In-person contact visits, including at the weekend
- Full re-introduction of learning and skills provision – in-person and virtual
- The return of all statutory and VCS partners
- Pre-release testing maximised
Director General Ronnie Armour said: “We want to be ambitious about recovery. By April 4 we plan to have a full and purposeful day for people in our care and we will now work with a range of partners to make that happen.
“We will of course continue to follow any advice and guidance from the Public Health Agency and others, and we will regularly review progress as we put our plans into action.
“The last two years have been particularly challenging for everyone associated with prisons. However with the same professionalism and determination I have no doubt we will rebuild our services to have rehabilitation at the core of our work.”
Notes to Editors:
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