Coronavirus (COVID-19) and prisons

This page provides guidance for families and friends of those in prison in England and Wales during the coronavirus pandemic.

This page will be updated as new advice becomes available.

Prison visits in England and Wales

Prison visits are temporarily suspended following instructions for people to stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives. We will update this page when this changes.

There are a number of other ways to contact someone in prison if you are unable to visit them. For example you might be able to leave a voice message using the Prison Voicemail Service or send them an email using the email a prisoner service. You can also write to them.

As a temporary measure, secure phone handsets will be given to prisoners at 55 prisons allowing risk-assessed prisoners to speak to a small number of pre-authorised contacts.

There are also a number of other helplines that can provide guidance.

What we are doing to keep people safe in prisons

Prisons have been working closely with public health and NHS services to put robust contingency plans in place. The plans prioritise the safety of staff, prisoners and visitors.

Existing, well-developed procedures are in place to manage outbreaks of infectious diseases and prisons are prepared if cases are identified. Plans are in place for dealing with staff absences if staff working in prisons need to self-isolate.

Handwashing facilities are available to prisoners, staff and visitors and we have worked closely with suppliers to ensure the supply of soap and cleaning materials.

Risk-assessed prisoners who are within two months of their release date will be temporarily released from prison, as part of the national plan to protect the NHS and save lives.

Changes to regimes

The usual regime in prisons has been paused temporarily to apply social distancing. This is vital for keeping prisoners and staff safe and preventing the spread of the virus.

This means prisoners can no longer take part in usual recreational activities such as using the gym, going to worship or visiting the library.

Only essential workers such as kitchen staff or wing cleaners will continue with their jobs but people will still get paid.

Support for prisoners, such as advice on in-cell worship, exercise and managing anxiety will be provided.

If you are a friend or relative of a prisoner and want to know how this affects prison regimes, see Coronavirus: Q&A for friends and family of prisoners. We will continue to update and answer your frequently-asked questions.

Parole Board hearings and trials

All face-to-face Parole Board hearings and new jury trials have been temporarily suspended. The Parole Board will progress cases through a combination of remote hearings and a paper review process, sometimes combined with case management hearings.

Find out more about trials and Parole Board hearings.

Urgent work is in progress to enable improved contact between people in prison and their legal teams. This includes increasing video conferencing capacity in prisons. We will update this page when we have further information.

How we will update you about the impact of coronavirus on prisons

If there are changes to the general advice for visitors or the operation of the prison system, we will:

  • Update advice on this guidance page
  • Issue updates on Twitter @HMPPS and @MoJGovUK

We also have a range of ways to communicate advice and guidance to people in prison, including National Prison Radio

If you have urgent concerns about someone in prison during the coronavirus outbreak

If you have urgent concerns about someone in prison you should call the prison direct. Contact details are available on the Prison Finder.

Published 13 March 2020
Last updated 31 March 2020 + show all updates
  1. Updated to provide a link to our Coronavirus: Q&A for family and friends of prisoners

  2. Updated information about Parole Board hearings and regimes in prisons.

  3. Added an update to say prison visits are temporarily cancelled.

  4. Added information about visits being closed to visitors on 24 March

  5. Updates to list of affected prisons.

  6. Addition of a confirmed case of coronavirus at HMP Manchester.

  7. Updated to reflect new guidance issued on 16 March.

  8. First published.