Coronavirus: Q&A for friends and family of prisoners

We know friends and families of prisoners have questions about what coronavirus means for prison regimes. Here are answers to some frequently-asked questions.

We understand that friends and families of those in prison are concerned about the spread of coronavirus.

Please see below for our responses to questions you may have, which we will continue to update regularly. For further updates, please follow us on Twitter @hmpps.


Q: What steps will prisons be taking to support relationships with parents and their young children who cannot write letters or leave voicemails?

A: Around 60% of cells now have in-cell telephony, and we have contingency measures in place to ensure prisoners can maintain contact with their family via other means. This includes the provision of 900 locked mobile phones. These handsets will enable prisoners to phone the existing PIN phone system and, when connected, the experience will be the same as if they were using a landing PIN phone.


Q: If a cellmate has coronavirus, will the other individual be put in isolation?

A: If a prisoner displays symptoms, they will need to be isolated along with any other person who would, in a community setting, be deemed a member of their household. This will always include any prisoner who is currently sharing a cell with the symptomatic prisoner, regardless of whether they are symptomatic.

Q: Will families be informed if a prisoner tests positive for covid-19?

A: We must continue to respect patient confidentiality and individuals would need to provide their consent for a third party to inform their family. The prison would then be able to contact specific family members agreed through consent, if appropriate to do so.


Q: Can friends/family still send through post?

A: Yes, all prisons are still receiving post. We recognise that this is a really important way for prisoners to keep in touch with families while everyone is in isolation.

Phone service

Q: Will phone calls be free of charge?

A: There’s no change to the call charge policy. Phone services in prisons are not free, but additional credit will be considered on compassionate grounds by prisons.

Q: Who can prisoners call?

A: Prisons use a call-enabling service, whereby prisoners can request telephone numbers added to their account (subject to public protection checks). In addition, there are a range of advocacy and support lines pre-approved on all accounts, such as Samaritans and the Prisoner Advice Service.

Q: Will prisoners have access to the internet on the phones?

A: In-cell telephones and the additional phone sets do not have access to the internet. You cannot email prisoners directly, but all prisons use a service called Email a Prisoner. If you send a message this way, it will be printed out and delivered by prison staff. More on how the service operates including costs.

Q: Is there a list of prisons that the additional 900 phones have been given to?

A: The additional phone sets were issued to all prisons that do not currently have in-cell telephony installed. They have been issued to 57 sites, including prisons, Immigration Removal Centres and Foreign National Centres.

Q: Can I send a voicemail or voice message to a prisoner?

A: Yes. Prisons that use the Prison Voicemail service are still able to receive messages. Find out about how this works and costs.

Video calls

Q: Will prisoners be able to video call?

A: Secure video calls will be introduced to prisons and young offender institutions (YOIs) across England and Wales to maintain vital family contact for prisoners and young offenders during the coronavirus pandemic.

Following a successful trial at HMP Berwyn, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) is installing the technology at 10 institutions with a wider rollout in the coming weeks.

Video calls will be provided through secure laptops in a designated room in each institution. Time-limited calls will be made either by prisoners making a call request to their designated contact or by families who can request a time slot through a mobile app or directly with the establishment.

Video calls will be free for both prisoners and their families while we are dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak.

The first institutions to begin video calls are: HMPs Berwyn, Bronzefield, Downview, Eastwood Park, Garth, High Down, Hull, Wayland, Werrington and Wetherby.


Q: Will prisoner transfers still happen?

A: As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, all non-essential transfers of prisoners have ceased. This is to contain the outbreak, and for the health and safety of prisoners and prison and escort vehicle staff.


Q: How long are prison visits suspended for?

A: Measures suspending prison visits are part of the nationwide efforts to fight coronavirus. They are temporary and we will review the restrictions, taking into account public health advice.


Q: Can visitors still go through to the safer custody team to enquire about prisoner welfare?

A: If someone has a concern about the welfare of an individual prisoner, they can contact the prison via the safety hotline.

Q: How will mental health support be enhanced during this period?

A: The safety of those who live and work in prisons remains our top priority. We have provided additional guidance to prisons around supporting people at risk of harming themselves. Whilst prisoners are having to spend more time in their cells they will be given access to essential and support services such as the Samaritans through the prison landing, in-cell and handset pin phones.

Q: How does this impact the supply of medication?

A: Prisoners will continue to receive the medication they require.

Q: What if I have an urgent concern about a prisoner?

A: You should call the prison directly. Contact details for each prison, including specific safer custody lines, are available through the Find a Prison service.


Q: Are prisoners still able to be granted Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL)?

A: All ROTL has been suspended except where the prisoner is working as a key worker, the temporary release is on compassionate grounds, or is in accordance with the new temporary release scheme announced on 4 April.

Q. Will prisoners be released on time?

A: Yes, prisoners will not be kept in prison past their release date.


Q: Does every prisoner across the estate have access to soap, hot water and showers – and how regularly?

A: The Prison Service has a contract with a major supplier of cleaning and personal hygiene goods, which are routinely delivered into jails. Prisoners also have access to a weekly canteen order where they can order specific hygiene products in addition to those provided by the establishment. Exact quantities and types of toiletries provided are decided at a local level based on individual needs. All prisoners should have regular access to showers.

Published 31 March 2020
Last updated 18 May 2020 + show all updates
  1. Additional information re video calls

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

  3. Additional questions and answers have been added.

  4. Additional questions and answers have been added.

  5. First published.