Answers to Frequently Asked Questions are outlined below, which we hope you find useful. These will be regularly updated to reflect the current situation.
All of the below information is accurate and up-to-date as of 28th April 2020.
- Can I visit someone in prison?
At the moment, all visits are suspended across the prison estate.
- Can I arrange a virtual visit?
Currently all virtual visits have been suspended, but the SPS and Scottish Government are looking to implement other means for families to maintain contact.
- What alternatives are the SPS using to maintain family contact?
People in prison can continue to communicate through mail and the phone system. The SPS is providing everyone in custody with a free allowance of £2.50 per week on their phone balance.The SPS has expanded and encouraged access to the Email-a-Prisoner scheme and Prisoner Voicemail will be activated this week. Families can subscribe to this at: https://prisonvoicemail.com/
- When will mobile phones be available?
It was recently announced that restricted mobile phones will be provided to people in custody to allow them to maintain family contact. The SPS is working with the service provider to introduce mobile handsets as quickly as possible.
There are some technical and legal issues that the SPS has to overcome before mobile phones can be distributed. In order to ensure appropriate signal strength at each prison, work is underway to assess any requirement to boost mobile telephone signals.
- Will the SPS introduce Virtual Video Visits?
The SPS is exploring the options to provide virtual video visits. They are working to secure the additional equipment needed to facilitate these visits and ensure the booking process is as simple as possible.
Further communication on how and when the service will be available will be published as soon as possible.
- What provision is being made for people in prison with underlying health issues including respiratory problems such as asthma?
The SPS is working with the NHS to ensure any prisoners with existing health issues are receiving the support they need.For more information, visit http://www.ccpscotland.org/cjvsf/hot-topics/covid-19/
- I am worried about my loved one’s mental health whilst in lockdown.
NHS staff and Mental Health teams are still working on this to ensure people in prison are being cared for.If you have concerns, then please report this to the prison Duty Manager or contact our Helpline on 0800 254 0088.
- What is the situation regarding Home Leaves and other forms of community access? What about progression and Parole Hearings?
All temporary absences, including Home Leave, Work Placements, and Escorted Leave have been suspended. Due to restrictions on movement across the country, progression planning has now been suspended. However, pre-release case conferences will continue to take place, and those who are approaching critical dates will be prioritised to ensure they are not disadvantaged. Parole hearings will be conducted by teleconference where possible. Outstanding immediate pre-release hearings will go ahead by telephone if necessary.
- How can families hand in money or property?
The SPS is currently not accepting property handed in for people in prison, however property can still be sent in by post with the appropriate proform sent from the prison.They can also now accept money for people in prison transferred via an online banking facility, set up to support those in custody during the COVID-19 outbreak. This provides a safe way of sending money to friends and family. For more information and instructions on how to use this facility, please click on the link below.Online Banking FacilityOnline Banking Facility (PDF version)Families who do not use online banking can still send in cheques/postal orders to the prison, as before.
- How can families raise concerns about those in custody?
For concerns around individuals, emotional support, information, or advocacy, please call the Families Outside Helpline on 0800 254 0088, open Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm (also accessible via email, text, and webchat).
The Scottish Prison Service is also operating a Helpline during the Covid-19 crisis to offer families direct contact with the SPS. For general information, updates, and any policy changes across the prison estate, please call the SPS Helpline on 0131 330 3888, open Monday – Friday 9am – 3pm.Outside of these hours, please call the Duty Manager at the relevant prison. Prison contact details can be found on our website at www.familiesoutside.org.uk/families/visiting-prison
- Will my family member qualify for release on Home Detention Curfew (HDC)?Home Detention Curfew (HDC) is available to some people nearing the end of their sentence. A number of presumptions against HDC release have been removed and it is thought that more people will now be released on HDC.It should be noted that HDC is not an automatic entitlement and people will only be released after robust risk assessment.
Will my family member qualify for early release?
The Scottish Government recently announced plans to enable the SPS to release some individuals early. Only those serving sentences of 18 months, or less, with 90 days, or less, of their sentence remaining will be considered for early release.
Again it should be noted that this is not an automatic entitlement and people will only be released after an assessment of individual risk.
- What do I do if I need to pick up my family member if they are being released?
Advice here would be around practicing safely, i.e. if they are coming back to the family home, only one person should collect them (gate pickup)
- What efforts is the SPS taking to manage the COVID 19 situation?
The Scottish Prison Service is working closely with the Scottish Government, Health Protection Scotland, and a range of other partners to manage the unprecedented challenges we are all now facing.Difficult decisions have had to be made to protect the health of those living and working in in prison. In order to implement effective social distancing and balance the competing demands of public health and operational stability, the SPS has temporarily suspended the following:All non-essential work opportunities; communal dining; large group physical activity within prison gyms (although outdoor exercise in smaller numbers is encouraged); and education provision.
- Since non-essential work in prison has now been suspended, how will my family member earn money?
Individuals will not be financially disadvantaged as a result of not being able to work. Those receiving the lowest wage are being provided with an additional £2 per week, and the £1 television rental charge is being suspended and added to their personal cash.In terms of prison wages, only those who undertake essential services to keep the prison running e.g. laundry, catering, and cleaning will continue to attend work. Those who are employed in these essential services will receive an additional £10 weekly bonus on top of their current wage.Whilst all other employment opportunities have been suspended, people in prison will not lose money as a result of being unable to attend work. Those who are unable to work will continue to be paid their full wage. Those who were not previously working will continue to receive a ‘cell wage’ in line with the Prisoner Earnings and Wages Policy, in addition to an extra £2 per week.
- Is there other support available?
As well as the Families Outside Helpline and Regional Teams, who are still working remotely, Visitors’ Centres also continue to provide support remotely. Contact details can be found on our website.
- I am struggling with topping up my prepay gas and electricity meters
Phone the following companies and tell them that you are self-isolating, and they will send out 2 weeks’ worth of gas/electricity, or if it is a Smart Meter, they will top it up:
- British Gas 0333 202 9802
- EDF 0333 200 5100
- EON 0345 052 000
- N Power 0800 073 3000
- Scottish Power 0800 027 0072
- SSE 0345 026 2658
- Where can I get additional help?
Scottish Welfare Fund – The Scottish Welfare Fund helps families and people in Scotland who are on low incomes through Crisis Grants and Community Care Grants. Find out more at https://www.mygov.scot/scottish-welfare-fund/ Please note that they have temporarily extended the number of applications each year.
- Online Resources
Digital Unite has collated some useful resources for people having to adjust to life suddenly so dependent on digital technology. From using online health services to staying in touch with friends and family, they have pulled together some of their most relevant digital guides to help you during these challenging times https://www.digitalunite.com/news-reviews/covid-19-guides-resources