As lockdown measures ease across the UK, change is now reflected in prisons that have been placed under a restrictive routine for almost four months due to COVID-19.
Following government approval, all four Sodexo operated English Prisons have relaxed the current regime to stage 3, meaning HMP’s Bronzefield, Forest Bank, Northumberland and Peterborough have now reintroduced restricted activities, most notably, social visits.
Controls imposed in March saw HMP Forest Bank suspend visits, resident employment, classroom-based education and offending behaviour programmes with immediate effect.
While no visitors have been permitted access to the all-male prison since, families returned this week as the prison takes small steps towards the ‘new normal’.
Matt Spencer, Director at HMP Forest Bank, said: “While we welcome the reintroduction of social visits, it’s clearly not business as usual at HMP Forest Bank.
“The current prison environment dictates that the regime will be relaxed slowly and carefully to mitigate the risk of the virus and the serious effects it could have across our prison.
“Operationally we’re in good shape, but amid easing of the current regime, we cannot rule out reapplying restrictions should there be a requirement to do so.”
In June, HMPPS published a ‘National Framework’ setting out processes for regimes to be restored in prisons across England and Wales. Exceptional Delivery Models produced by HMPPS and adapted by all Sodexo prisons described how each of the prisons would deliver the aspects of the easing of lockdown at national and local level.
While elements of lockdown remain for the foreseeable future, change will be modest and gradual. Visits at Forest Bank are currently limited to one (one hour) session per month for each resident.
Tony Simpson, Director of UK Custodial Operations for Sodexo, said:
We understand the huge importance of family contact after a long period apart.
“Easing of restrictions within the prison environment was likely to be slower than that in the wider community, nonetheless it’s great to see that we are moving forward.
“Reaching stage three was dependent on there being no significant increase in COVID-19 cases within the prisons. The effects of relaxing the regime to this stage will be observed closely.
“What is apparent is how each Sodexo prison is fully committed to the wellbeing of our staff, residents and visitors as we begin to unlock the visitor room doors.
“We continue to monitor the threat and will only move forward to stage two when evidence suggests that the infection is minimal across our prisons and reflect those levels in the wider community.”