Scotland’s independent think tank
Scotland’s independent think tank

Video calls can help prisoners maintain family links during the pandemic- George Kyriacou

Maintaining family ties has proven to be vital for prisoner reform, increasing mental health, and, reducing the likelihood of reoffending. Figures have shown that prisoners who have regular contact with family are 39% less likely to reoffend on release.  At this difficult time, prisoners, and their loved ones are struggling with no visits, coupled with isolation in lockdown.

We are currently in the midst of a global pandemic, with some prisons on 23-hour lockdown, and all closing visits for the foreseeable future, in order to protect the staff and residents from this horrific virus.

Family ties are under strain, and lack of face to face visits, which are quite often the main part of a prisoner and their loved one’s diary, have a huge effect on the prisoner and their wellbeing, meaning, throughout the SPS, poor mental health, and self-harm is at an all-time high. 

The value of real face to face visits should not be underestimated, but video calls can help to bridge the gap, and help to bring those families together again.  Across the globe video calls are being made available to the people in custody throughout this unprecedented time, as its uncontested that facilitating family contact is more important now than ever before.

For example, a number of prisons in England and Wales such as HMPs Berwyn, Bronzefield, Downview, Eastwood Park, Garth, High Down, Hull, Wayland, Werrington and Wetherby, have all recently begun using secure video calling technology during the pandemic, the likes of Jersey and Guernsey prisons in the Channel Islands have been using video calling for the past 18 months and many more are starting to adopt the same solution.

Research has shown, consistently, that there is a direct link between prisoners’ communication with loved ones, and their mental health and reoffending rate. Stable contact with loved ones is key to giving a sense of belonging, and a sense of purpose to a prisoner who might otherwise feel isolated.  Prisoners need to maintain a sense of identity outside of the prison walls.  They need to have the reinforcement that they are still a husband, wife, son, daughter, mother or father. Knowing that they have a role to perform when leaving the prison, and a place within the family unit, is vital to reducing mental illness, self-harm, and reoffending in Scotland’s prisons, and helping to create a place of reform.

The Farmer Review, (which I spoke in more details about back in October 2017, read the article here) which was a review into the prison system within England and Wales took a close look at how helping inmates to stay in touch with their families, can reduce reoffending, and concluded that too little is being done to enable visits. The review, by Lord Farmer, found that supportive relationships with family members and significant others, give meaning and motivation to other forms of rehabilitation.

Lord Farmer said; “My report is not sentimental about prisoners’ families, as if they can, simply by their presence, alchemise a disposition to commit crime into one that is law-abiding,” he continued.  “However, I do want to hammer home a very simple principle of reform that needs to be a golden thread running through the prison system and the agencies that surround it. That principle is that relationships are fundamentally important if people are to change.”

At Purple Visits, we have worked closely with the criminal justice sector to be able to offer a service which is safe, secure and we believe can make a real difference, not only to the lives of inmates, but to their family, friends, loved ones and society as a whole. By offering the use of video calling securely via Purple Visits, particularly at this worrying time, we believe we can play an important role in facilitating family ties, and maintaining communication and connection during this time of isolation.

George Kyriacou created Purple Visits, which is a platform that helps facilitate secure video calls from prison