Lockdown in Prison

If you think it’s been awkward coping with the lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic, spare a thought for those held in Peterborough prison.  Face to face contact with their families came to an end when all visits were suspended on 24th March 2020.  FOPP volunteering activities were suspended at roughly the same time and the normal education regime and access to the libraries also stopped.  This meant that there were far fewer opportunities for residents to leave their wings or even their cells. 

The strict lockdown remained in place until late July, but arrangements were made to allow restricted social visits to resume from Monday 27th July 2020.  Alongside these physical visits, a video calling scheme known as Purple Visits was introduced in August. 

Further restrictions came into force when another period of national restrictions applied in England during November.  When this ended on 2nd December 2020, social visits were re-instated except for would-be visitors living in the newly-designated tier 3 areas of the country.  However, a relaxation of the national rules over the Christmas period was reflected in the prison by permitting visits from those living in tier 3 areas.

On 18th December 2020 the prison was deemed to be in a Tier 3 area.  Only two days later it was placed under Tier 4 restrictions.

On Wednesday 6th January 2021 a national lockdown was re-introduced.

In February 2021 the male side of the prison suffered a serious Covid outbreak, meaning that social visits could not be resumed until 17th May 2021.

The situation improved during the next few months, with residents allowed to hug children from the beginning of June, followed by a pilot scheme called “Test & Hug” in July, which allowed residents to embrace visitors as long as both parties tested negative for Covid-19 on the day of the visit.

Expand the items below for full details.


HMP Peterborough is participating in a pilot scheme called Test & Hug.  The Sodexo prison website announced the scheme in this statement:

Prisons remain a high-risk environment with increased potential for outbreaks of Covid-19, therefore the removal of restrictions in the community on Monday 19 July will not be replicated within the establishment.

Infection rates are rising both in the community and in prisons, so we must continue to proceed with caution and retain the current controls that we have in place. Within the prison we have many people working and living in close proximity, so we must follow the advice of public health experts to safeguard against the virus.

We will be progressing with the gradual expansion of our regime, although this will be done slowly and with caution.

We understand that the discrepancies between the community and the restrictions within the prison may cause frustration, but please bear in mind that we must make the wellbeing of our residents, staff and visitors our priority.

To help to ease the frustration of social distancing and to improve the experience of visits, HMP Peterborough is participating in a pilot scheme called ‘Test & Hug’. This allows residents and visitors to embrace at the start and end of their visit, as long as all parties have tested negative for Covid-19 on the day of the visit. We’re delighted to be a part of this scheme and the feedback received so far has been very positive.

Please note that visitors will still be required to wear a face mask and that they are mandatory for the duration of the visit.

Thank you for your ongoing support and patience as we work through the challenges that the global pandemic has created.

The Sodexo prison website today carried a substantial announcement outlining the current impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in prisons, and specifically in HMP Peterborough.  The full text of the announcement is reproduced below:

On Monday 5 July 2021, the Prime Minister updated the country on what is being done in England so that restrictions in the community can stop on July 19.

The Prime Minister also said that the pandemic was not over because we are seeing cases rise in the community. He said that we will see more cases in the community and more deaths as things start to open up again. He also said we need to be prepared to reintroduce some measures in the winter.

We are starting to see rises in cases in prisons each day which is why we must continue to ease our own restrictions carefully and safely. This means we won’t be lifting all our restrictions in our prisons in England on July 19.

Public Health experts have told us that prisons are more likely to suffer from longer outbreaks of infection because they are closed environments, with everyone living and working closely together. This message has been shared with you before, but it is necessary to stress that our decisions are taken based on the health advice.

Keeping everyone in our prisons safe from this virus has always been, and continues to be, the priority and we must not do anything now that could threaten the progress we have made so far. 

We will be progressing with our regimes, even though we must do it at a slower pace than the community. There are already 13 prisons which are now running regimes with far fewer COVID-19 restrictions – HMP Peterborough’s plans to move to ‘Stage 2’ of the recovery programme are now well advanced so we are hopeful that we will be able to further relax restrictions soon.

We also understand the importance of having physical contact with the person you are visiting during visits. We recently completed a pilot across a selection of prisons that allowed for physical contact during visits following a negative COVID-19 test result taken on the day. We are currently looking at these results and will update you soon on how we will use these results to improve visits in all prisons.

Here at HMP Peterborough, we are proud that we have been one of the selected pilot sites for the ‘Test & Hug’ pilot, enabling visitors and residents to have physical contact following a negative test result. The feedback we have received has been exceptionally positive and the benefits for both our residents and their visitors is evident.

Health experts have said that a successful vaccine rollout is key to beating COVID-19 and reducing the risk of returning to a more restricted regime in the future. We have already given a first dose of the vaccine to 42,500 people in prison and 21,000 are now fully vaccinated. We would very much welcome your support in encouraging your loved one to accept the vaccine when they are offered it. If they aren’t sure about having it, they can speak to their key worker, someone in healthcare or perhaps a peer mentor or religious leader who will be able to listen to their concerns and answer any questions they may have.

How we live with COVID-19 in the longer term will be a new experience for all of us. We must continue to protect ourselves and each other by making sure we keep following the public health measures when visiting the prison, such as maintaining social distancing and wearing a face covering.

Thank you for your support.

The prison announced that with effect from Tuesday 1st June 2021, residents will be permitted to hug visitors under the age of 11.  It will also be permissible for people from two different households (family or friends) to make a combined visit, but the limit on the number of visitors per session will remain at 3 people.

On 17th May 2021 the rules on social distancing in the general community in the UK were relaxed, allowing close family members to share a hug, for example.  Unfortunately, for those in prison, the same relaxation will not apply just yet.  The following statement on the Sodexo prison website explained why:

You may have seen on the news that close families and friends will be allowed to have physical contact from Monday, May 17. The government has also said that there are some places where social distancing has to stay in place because there is still too much of a risk of coronavirus spreading. Prisons are environments where the virus can spread quickly and we sometimes need to take a different approach to the community.

For the time being, the current guidance is that social distancing between family and friends will need to continue in all prisons in England and Wales. This is so that we can allow in-person visits to take place and be confident that we can keep you and your loved ones safe.

The restrictions that currently apply to our social visits are as follows:

  • No physical contact – we understand that this is frustrating but we must insist that you follow this rule, otherwise your visit may be terminated
  • Face masks must be work at all times
  • You must remain seated throughout your visit – this includes children
  • Visits will start and end promptly, so please make sure that you are on time for your session

Video calls via Purple Visits as well as face-to-face visits with restrictions are now available for both our male and female residents, but we understand this can’t replace the contact you used to have before the pandemic.

We are working hard with public health authorities in England and Wales to understand how we can safely introduce more physical contact during visits. There are some prisons that have been piloting different ways of improving visits, such as testing visitors and holding outside family days. These pilots have been running for the last month and we will use what they learn to improve visits over the coming months.

We want to reassure you that we are working hard on how we can improve visits for you and your loved ones. We are starting to make progress on easing our restrictions in the prison, but we must do this with caution to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our residents and staff.

On 10th May 2021 the Sodexo prison website carried an announcement that social visits, along with the reopening of many work areas, would re-start from Monday 17th May.

A message on the Sodexo prison website explained that some elements of the normal regime on the female side of the prison would re-start from Monday 12th April 2021.  It went on to announce that social visits within the female prison would resume on Monday 19th April 2021.  Strict rules and protocols would be in place to provide the safest possible experience for everyone.  Regrettably, no  physical contact between residents and visitors would be permitted.

The message went on to explain that it was not yet possible to offer social visits for male residents because of the recent Covid-19 outbreak; however, the outbreak was being managed effectively and all residents were thanked for their support and cooperation in helping to bring about a much-improved picture.

On the anniversary of the first day of the National Lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the following message was posted on the Sodexo prison website:

Covid-19 update

One year on from the initial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, we continue to follow national guidelines to safeguard our residents, staff and partner organisations. It has undoubtedly been the most challenging year for everyone, not least for our residents and their families.

Although we remain unable to offer social visits, we continue to operate video visits via the Purple Visits system and are providing additional funds for phone calls, helping to maintain some level of family contact. We also operate the EmailAPrisoner system, as well as traditional postal services.

We are working closely with Public Health England to manage the Covid-19 outbreak in the male prison. The number of residents testing positive for the virus is coming down and we are confident that the picture will continue to improve.

While we manage this situation, residents are being provided with hygiene packs where access to showers cannot currently be facilitated, with regular welfare checks being carried out.

Precautionary measures include all staff wearing PPE throughout the establishment (both male and female prisons), together with regular staff testing.

The female prison remains unaffected by the outbreak.

We continue to roll out the Covid-19 vaccination programme to residents who would be eligible to receive it in the wider community. To date, we have completed vaccinations for all residents within cohorts 1-8 – those over the age of 55 or under 65 and considered ‘at risk’, according to NHS definitions. We are on track to begin delivering vaccines to residents within cohort 9 (50 years and over) from next week (w/c 29 March).

We are now looking ahead towards the time when we are able to start to lift the restrictions that are currently in place. We want to be able to relax our current strict regime as soon as we are safely able – including restarting social visits to bring families back together – however, this must be done carefully and with caution.

The speed of our progression out of lockdown conditions is likely to be slower than that out in the community, so we do ask for understanding and patience as we navigate through these challenging times.

The safety and wellbeing of both our residents and staff remains our priority.

Following speculation in the local press, an official Sodexo website announcement on 23rd February 2021 confirmed that they were managing an outbreak of Covid-19 on the male side of the prison.  Few specific details were given other than that a very restricted regime and mass testing had been introduced.  It also confirmed that vaccination of residents was proceeding on the same basis as for those in the wider community. 

It was also confirmed that the female side of the prison was unaffected by Covid at this time.  Precautionary measures had been put in place with all staff wearing PPE throughout the establishment, together with regular staff testing.

On Wednesday 6th January 2021, the UK began a second period of national lockdown, with everyone required to stay at home so far as possible.  No further changes to the operation of the prison were necessary as it had only recently been placed under national Tier 4 restrictions.

The official prison website confirmed this morning that the prison is now subject to national Tier 4 restrictions.  Accordingly, all social visits are now suspended until further notice.  The announcement stated:

We anticipate that this will have minimal impact on the regime that we are currently providing for our residents, including access to physical exercise, work activity, education and small faith groups on the wings. Our partner organisations continue to support residents, in accordance with their own organisational arrangements and decisions. Our peer workers remain active, providing essential support to residents. Essential medical appointments, transfers and court appearances will continue to be facilitate.

On 18th December 2020, the prison, along with the rest of Peterborough, moved into the highest level of Covid-19 Tier 3 restrictions.  The prison issued the following statement on their website:

From Saturday 19 December to Monday 04 January, we will be able to offer social visits for compassionate reasons. Existing restrictions will remain in place, including the requirement for the visitor to wear a face covering at all times and that no physical contact is permitted.

After 04 January, all social visits will unfortunately have to be suspended, in line with Tier 3 restrictions. We continue to offer Purple Visits video calls for residents and provide additional credit on their PIN phone accounts, helping to maintain essential family contact.

The Sodexo official prison website gave details on Thursday 10th December of the revised arrangements for social visits over the Christmas period, including the possibility of visits from those living in tier 3 areas, who were previously excluded.

An announcement on the Sodexo official prison website on Tuesday 2nd December gives details of the re-instatement of social visits following the second period of national  restrictions that has just ended. The announcement explains that visits from people living in a tier 3 area will not be permitted.

An announcement on the Sodexo official prison website on Monday 9th November detailed another suspension of social visits during the period of national restrictions that is due to end on 2nd December. The announcement makes clear that legal visits can continue, as can visits by certain partner agencies.  It also states that some social visits might be authorised during this period on compassionate grounds.

An announcement on the Sodexo official prison website on Monday 5th October relayed a message from Phil Copple, Director General of Prisons, explaining how the tighter restrictions in some parts of the country will not immediately change the operation of social visits in prisons. 

An announcement on the Sodexo official prison website on Monday 17th August gave details of the introduction of a video calling scheme to keep residents in touch with their families.  The scheme will be known as Purple Visits. 

An announcement on the Sodexo official prison website on Wednesday 15th July outlined the arrangements for resuming social visits to residents as from Monday 27th July.  Full details of how visits will be managed can be found on the Sodexo Visiting The Prison page.

Today, (15th June 2020), the Director of HMP Peterborough, Damian Evans, has posted an open letter on their website to the families and friends of residents currently held there.  It refers to the Covid-19 National Framework for Prison Regimes and Services, which can be viewed as the next item, below.  You can view the prison website here.