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 the second period of national lockdown 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.

Expand the items below for full details.


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 lockdown 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 announced another suspension of social visits during the period of national lockdown 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.