Regarding visits: Updated 20th March 2020
In consultation with the Justice Minister Naomi Long MLA, the Director General of the Northern Ireland Prison Service has announced that he has reluctantly taken the decision to suspend all visits to prisons from Monday 23nd March.
Ronnie Armour said, “The safety of everyone in our prisons is paramount. As decisions have been made to restrict contact in wider society with the closure of schools, leisure facilities and other public buildings, I have reluctantly taken the decision to suspend all visits to our prisons.
“Under normal circumstances visits would be one of the last areas to be suspended as family contact is at the centre of prison life. However we are living in extraordinary times and what at one time would have been unthinkable, is this week’s reality.
“I visited each of our prisons earlier this week and spoke to many people in our care. I was struck by the understanding from them that tough decisions would have to be taken and in fact some of them have already told their loved ones not to visit them.
“I am very conscious that while face to face visits have been suspended, contact between families and their loved ones in prison must continue. We will immediately, and on an ongoing basis, look for every opportunity to ensure that families can stay in contact.”
Statement issued 19th March 2020
Statement from Ronnie Armour, Director General of the Northern Ireland Prison Service
To date, there has been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in any prison in Northern Ireland.
On Saturday 14th March six prisoners (four at Maghaberry and two at Hydebank Wood) were placed in specially located accommodation away from the general population. This was a precautionary move and in line with our preparations to mitigate the impact of the virus.
Specific contingency planning structures are in place and a dedicated team to support Prison Governors has been established.
The Prison Service is working closely with the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust (SEHSCT), and other partners, in each of its establishments to ensure appropriate care for those people in custody.
Preparations by the Prison Service have included developing specific areas for isolation, where prisoners suspected or diagnosed with having the virus, can be accommodated. Additional protective clothing for staff has also been purchased and information is being communicated to all staff and prisoners regarding practising good hygiene.
The Prison Service recognise the importance of good communication and is committed to working with staff, prisoners, families and stakeholders as operational decisions are taken. Notwithstanding any challenges we may face, supporting staff and keeping safe those in our care remains our primary focus.
However, given the particular risks from coronavirus, NIPS has to prioritise the safety and wellbeing of prisoners, staff and the people who visit our establishments. We continue to follow PHA guidance and advice; and visitors are therefore asked to follow common sense guidelines:
- Do not visit if you are unwell yourself.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after visiting and use the hand sanitiser gel provided.