The mother of a 19-month-old child has begun legal action against the Ministry of Justice after fearing that her child will forget their father if prison visits do not resume soon. The government suspended all prison visits on March 24 as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
Consequently since lockdown, no family visits have been allowed to the child’s father. A Prison Service spokesperson told the Guardian that the ‘decision to stop visits was not taken lightly’. ‘It was based on public health advice in response to an unprecedented emergency,’ they said. ‘We have introduced secure video calls at more than 80 prisons across the estate, provided more than 1,000 mobile phone handsets, and given extra phone credit to help prisoners maintain important family ties during the pandemic.’ Although there has been phone contact between the father and the family, the mother claims that this is not adequate for a baby who cannot verbally communicate with their father.
MW Solicitors who are working with three families in a similar situation say that the ban on prison visits and a lack of video contact breaches Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and is a direct failure to safeguard the best interests of children under the Children Act 2004. In a recent report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, it was held that an estimated 17,000 children’s right to family life whose mothers are in prison has been placed at risk by the ban on prison visits during the pandemic.
As experts reported to the Huffington Post, a ban on prison visits has had a detrimental impact on children’s attachment and relationship with their parents who are in prison. While the public has been encouraged to go shopping, visit restaurants and return to normalcy, delays remain in recommencing prison visits or creating appropriate alternatives.