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Justice Minister Naomi Long has welcomed moves to ease restrictions on visiting prisons

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Prisons will now begin preparations to ensure all visits areas follow health guidelines to keep staff, prisoners and visitors safe. Visits, under new guidance, will begin on 27 July.

Naomi Long said: “The work being done to keep our prisons safe for staff and those in our care has been hugely impressive and I want to pay tribute to the Prison Service and our partners for their dedication throughout this time.

“The careful reintroduction of visits will be welcome progress for families and those in our care: family contact is an important part of rehabilitation and I’m pleased we are now in a position to move this forward.”

Director General of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, Ronnie Armour said: “I fully recognise the importance of ensuring people in our care can maintain relationships with their families. It is a hugely important part of rehabilitation and in preparing people for release back into the community.

“In response to the pandemic visiting arrangements to our prisons had to be suspended. Since then we have introduced an extensive programme of virtual visits, which have been hugely successful and have allowed many people to contact loved ones where they had not been able to do so before. Virtual visits will continue to grow and more than 8,000 have taken place since mid-April.

“As Northern Ireland Executive leads recovery in the community, the Prison Service is committed to doing likewise in our establishments. Re-introducing visits for close relatives of people in custody is an important step in that recovery.

“Over the next few weeks each of our prisons will make preparations to ensure that healthcare guidelines are adhered to keep our staff, prisoners and their visitors safe. Visits, under the new guidelines, will therefore commence on 27 July.

“We must remain vigilant to the risk of the virus and this decision will be kept under review. However I know this decision will be welcome news to the people in our care and their families.”

The new guidance includes a number of measures including:

– Where possible virtual visiting remains the preferred option;
– Anyone showing or experiencing the symptoms of Covid-19 or any other infection should not visit, even if these symptoms are mild and unconfirmed;
– Visitors must rigorously follow public health hygiene advice – washing heads before and after visits, using hand sanitiser gel and maintain social distancing;
– Only one visitor is permitted to visit at a time;
– Children under the age of 16 will not be permitted to visit. In the event of exceptional circumstances, this can be raised through the internal request mechanism; and
– Visitors will be required to undertake a temperature check upon entry to any NIPS establishment.

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