Coronavirus (COVID-19) and prisons

Guidance for families and friends of people in prison in England and Wales during the coronavirus pandemic.

Update 19 July 2021

England has moved to Step 4 of the roadmap. Find out what has changed in England and in Wales

There is different advice for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

From 19 July, some restrictions such as social distancing may remain in place in prisons because they are high-risk environments due to the high number of people living and working together, making the spread of infection more difficult to control and the risk of outbreaks more acute. Assessments will be carried out by service managers in consultation with or as a result of advice from Directors of Public Health, who will be able to continue to advise on social distancing measures to control and prevent outbreaks.

The use of social distancing will be targeted, time limited, and kept under review.

Read about the visiting rules

Prison visits in England & Wales

Prisons in England and Wales are resuming social visits when it is safe to do so. This is when a prison achieves stage 3 of the National Framework for Prisons. This decision will be made by HM Prison & Probation Service (HMPPS) in partnership with health partners.

Certain restrictions apply because of coronavirus (COVID-19). This means that it’s important to check local guidance regularly as the situation in individual prisons may change. Find out which prisons have social visits

If you are unable to visit someone in prison you can still keep in touch. Find out about other ways of keeping in touch.

Contact someone in prison

If you are unable to visit someone in prison, you can contact them by:

Additional temporary secure phone handsets were issued to all prisons that did not have in-cell telephony installed. More on telephone calls.

Prisons and young offender institutions (YOI) across England and Wales have secure video calling. Video calls are currently free for both prisoners and their families. Find out more about prison video calling.

What we are doing to keep people safe in prisons

Prisons are working with public health and NHS services and continue to prioritise the safety of staff, prisoners and visitors.

All prisons have introduced covid-secure ways of working. Prisons have procedures to manage outbreaks of infectious diseases and 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.

Changes to regimes

Our priority is to limit the spread of the virus and to protect the lives of those who live and work in our prisons.

This means that whilst prisons will aim to maintain current regimes, temporary changes may need to be put into place. All prisons are different and regime changes may vary across the country. We will continue to follow public health advice in relation to prisons.

Parole Board hearings

The majority of Parole Board hearings are now taking place remotely. For the small number of cases that are so sensitive and complex that they require a face to face hearing, the Parole Board is working with prisons to establish arrangements for safe hearings to take place..

Find out more about Parole Board hearings.

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 and 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

Urgent concerns about someone in prison

If you have urgent concerns about someone in prison you should contact the prison directly.

Other support for families

Prisoners’ Families Helpline

Telephone: 0808 808 2003

Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm

Saturday and Sunday, 10am to 3pm

Find out about call charges

Families Outside Support and Information Helpline

For prisons in Scotland only

Telephone: 0800 254 0088

Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm

Saturday and Sunday, Closed

Find out about call charges

You can also get help and advice from:

Published 13 March 2020
Last updated 19 July 2021 + show all updates
  1. 19 July update to reflect England moving to step 4 of the roadmap.

  2. 17 May update

  3. Update on 29 March saying prisons in England and Wales will resume social visits when it is safe to do so.

  4. Update on prison visits 16 March

  5. Updated with information about prison social visits being suspended due to the current national lockdown.

  6. Updated to reflect changes in tiering

  7. Updated to reflect tier 4 in England and alert level 4 in Wales.

  8. Updated as a result of local restriction tiers.

  9. Updated with information about new rules in Wales

  10. New information relating to national restrictions beginning on 5 November.

  11. Information about Wales prison visits added.

  12. Information about local COVID alert levels added.

  13. Update to prison guidance

  14. Additional information regarding prison visits.

  15. Update to information on prison visits

  16. Content updated to say restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic remain in place.

  17. Updated information on secure video calling.

  18. Secure video calls will be introduced to prisons and young offender institutions (YOIs) across England and Wales.

  19. We have added additional contacts to help families and friends of prisoners who have an urgent concern.

  20. Updated to provide a link to our Coronavirus: Q&A for family and friends of prisoners

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

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

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

  24. Updates to list of affected prisons.

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

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

  27. First published.