Visits to Prison

This document contains procedures and best practice guidance for safeguarding the welfare of children and young people who are visiting or having contact with adults or other young people who are in prison, focusing particularly on contact with persons identified as posing a risk to children. For the purpose of this document a child is defined as any child/young person under the age of 18 years.

Clear and timely communications are essential to ensure that inter agency co-operation takes place and all regulations are implemented in the best interests of the child.

This chapter was added in June 2022.

1. Introduction and Duties of Prison Governors

Custodial institutions in the Isle of Man are required to sustain and encourage prisoners to maintain family relationships under the Custody Rules 2015.

When a prisoner comes into custody the prison is informed about any ‘no contact orders’ with their child or children. This information is sent by the Police or Court, the details are within a specific form (MG6). Instructions and conditions are made clear and are added to the ‘no contact’ list used for screening of post, phone number additions and visits.

The Isle of Man Prison Service have safeguarding responsibilities which are set out within the Safeguarding Act 2018 and the Safeguarding Together document 2019. They have a duty to safeguard children and cooperate with agencies by having arrangements in place that reflect the importance of safeguarding children.

The prison Governor should be clear with all staff, of ‘their duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children’, and in the prison context, this will include balancing a child’s right to ongoing contact with parents who are held in custody with the need to ensure any such ongoing contact is safe, and in the child’s best interests.

The Isle of Man Prison and Probation Service has in place a range of measures (noted throughout this document) to reduce the risks that certain prisoners, especially those convicted of, or charged with, offences against children may present to children whilst in custody.

Prisoners identified as posing a risk to children (PPRC) may only apply for contact with their own children under the age of 18 within their immediate family. This includes biological children, step-children, and adopted children. Any exception to this must be by order of the Governor using the General Application Process instigated by the prisoner.

Where the prisoner is known to have committed sexual offences against children, they will only be permitted visits by children and young people under the age of 18 who are their direct family members, where their Sex Offenders Prevention Order does not restrict this and where there are no issues with safeguarding following consultation with Probation and Children and Families Division.

Where a person has been identified as a PPRC, and is sent to serve a custodial sentence, it is the responsibility of the Probation Officer (DHA) to inform the Children and Families Division that a prisoner has been placed in custody, of subsequent transfers, release on a temporary licence and of the release date and address of that person. The Isle of Man Constabulary should also be notified of the release date and address.

To ensure measures are in place to offer protection of children visiting the prison, specific safeguarding and child protection training should be tailored according to need and accessed by prison staff, to provide them with sufficient knowledge and skills so that appropriate action can be taken if concerns are raised during the time that a child has contact with a family member who is in prison. The training should be relevant and proportionate to prison officer’s likely level of contact with children and their families.

2. Staying in Touch with a Family Member who is in Prison

Decisions to prevent or restrict contact must take into account the risk presented by the prisoner, the needs and best interests of the child, balanced against the prisoner’s right to a family life. In all cases decisions should be based on what is right for the child. Safeguarding and protecting a child from harm must take priority, especially if contact would place the child at risk.

All prisoners who have been identified as presenting a possible risk of harm to children must be approached and asked if they want to have contact with their child or children, if it is known that the child wishes to have contact with their parent. The response from the prisoner should be clearly recorded.

The parent/primary carer for the child should be asked whether they are in support of the contact. The application for contact should not be progressed unless the parent/primary carer supports it.

A multi- agency assessment should be completed with the Governor or Senior manager with suitable authority who will make the decision regarding family contact arrangements. Children and families can maintain contact with a family member in prison in the following ways:

  • By writing a letter (letters may be read by prison staff before being delivered);
  • Telephone contact, however this will only be where permission has been granted by a parent/guardian other than the prisoner.
  • Video call facility known as purple visits – this is a video call facility within the Isle of Man prison. Security checks to ensure the safeguarding of children are carried out as a part of the purple visit application process. The calls are monitored to ensure the system is not used inappropriately.
  • Through social visits.

Prisoners are not allowed access to social networking sites or mobile telephones while in prison (although it should be noted that the illegal use of mobile telephones does occur). Children under 18 must be accompanied by an adult when visiting a prison; however, in exceptional circumstances and with prior agreement, the Governor may allow young people between the ages of 16 and 18 years to visit on their own only if the young person is the prisoner’s child and with the permission of a parent or guardian who is not in prison. Every visit must take place within hearing distance of a prison officer.

Family days and child centred extended visits provide an opportunity for prisoners, their children and partners to come together to enjoy and share family time in a more normalised environment. They are characterised by more relaxed interaction and fewer restrictions than at regular visits.

There is set criteria that prisoners are required to meet before they are eligible to take part in a family day. It is not open for all and each application should be robustly scrutinised.

Children should be provided with age appropriate information about the visits process so they know what to expect; this could include explaining that they may be searched, that dogs who have been trained to detect drugs will be present; that items like mobile phones cannot be taken into visits and that physical contact (hugging etc.) during visits is likely to be restricted.

A risk assessment must be undertaken by the prison for any prisoner wishing to take part in special children's visits, or other events which includes children and their carer’s.

3. Contact Requests

In general, prisoners identified as Persons Posing a Risk to Children may only have contact with children within their immediate family and only with the permission of their parent or guardian who are not in prison. This includes biological children, step-children, adopted children and the children of the prisoner's partner provided they were living together as partners in an enduring family relationship before imprisonment. Applications can also be made for grandchildren, siblings, nieces and nephews. Contact with a child outside these relationships should only be allowed in exceptional cases and with agreement by the Governor of the prison.

4. Contact with a Prisoner who is Identified as Posing a Risk to Children

It is the responsibility of the Department of Home Affairs to identify prisoners who are potential or confirmed persons posing a risk to children (PPRC) and through a risk assessment it should be established whether the prisoner presents a continuing risk to children during their time in prison.

The list of indicators that may place a prisoner as a PPRC are as follows:

  • Been convicted or are charged with a sexual offence against a child;
  • A previous conviction for a sexual offence against a child;
  • A conviction or charge of murder or assault against a child;
  • A charge or conviction involving domestic abuse where a child was involved;
  • A charge or conviction where harm or neglect of a child was involved;
  • Convicted of or charge with an offence whose circumstances indicate that the prisoner knowingly placed a child at risk of serious harm, including harm caused to a child by seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another;
  • Displayed any behaviour whilst in prison indicating the prisoner presents a risk to a child;
  • Information has been received from other agencies about the risk that the prisoner presents.

A multi-agency risk assessment should be completed to determine what, if any, contact the prisoner is allowed with a child and whether the prisoner presents a continuing risk to children during their time in prison. Where information is received or the behaviour of the prisoner is seen to indicate a potential risk of harm to a child, then a fully comprehensive risk assessment must be undertaken to determine whether the prisoner should be allowed contact with a child and the extent of such contact.

Risk identification and management must be undertaken by the Department of Home Affairs and within the prison in a manner that is proportionate to the individual concerned. Decisions to prevent or restrict contact need to take into account the risk presented by the prisoner, the needs and best interests of the child, balanced against the prisoner's right to a family life. In all cases decisions will be based on what is best for the child. The rights of a child to be safeguarded and protected from harm must take priority over an offender's right to family life as set out in the 1998 Human Rights Act if the offender's right would mean that contact could place a child at risk.

The over-riding principle is that the child's welfare is paramount - and that any contact must be in the child's best interest.

4.1 Parental/Primary Carer Support for Contact

The prison must ask the parent/primary carer of the child whether they support contact or not and at what level. The application cannot proceed unless the primary carer supports contact.

In cases where the parent/primary carer does not support contact, the prison must inform Children and Families Division.

4.2 Looked After Children

Where the child is Looked After, the view of the Children and Families Division about the appropriateness of contact must be obtained in writing. The test is always whether contact is in the child's best interest.

Whether or not Manx Care shares Parental Responsibility, the views of the parent must also be included and taken into account.

4.3 The Multi-Agency Risk Assessment

The following agencies must be contacted to gather information before an assessment of risk can be made and a level of contact agreed that would be in the best interests of the child:

  1. The Isle of Man Constabulary must be contacted with details of the prisoner and the child including a photograph;
  2. The probation officer should be provided with the details of the prisoner's application and where a prisoner will be subject to licence supervision on release or has been recalled for breach of licence for the current offence the probation officer must be contacted and asked for information and comments. In addition, if the prisoner is a young offender and is supervised, the Youth Justice worker and social worker within Children and Families Division must be contacted and informed of the circumstances;
  3. The Department of Home Affairs must liaise with the Children and families Division to establish whether the child of the prisoner is known to their service. If the child is not an open case, then a referral should be made.

Within one working day of receiving a referral, Children and Families Division should make a decision about the type of response that is required and advise the referrer on the next course of action.

The Governor (or senior manager with suitable delegated authority) is ultimately responsible for making an assessment of what, if any, level of contact should be permitted.

4.4 The Decision

Once the multi-agency assessment process is completed, the Governor or a senior manager with suitable delegated authority should make a decision about the appropriate level of contact suitable between the prisoner and the child.

The risk presented should be managed proportionately, taking into account the existing safeguards available in custody. In all cases decisions must be based on what is in the best interests of the child and must be properly reasoned and fully recorded on file.

In addition to the information provided by partner agencies (which should include an assessment of the child's needs, wishes and feelings and the capacity of the primary carer to protect the child from potential harm), the assessment should also take into account

  • Social enquiry report;
  • Previous convictions;
  • Behaviour in custody;
  • Progress with offending behaviour programmes and risk assessment around sexual reoffending.

The over-riding principle is that the child's welfare is paramount and any contact must be in the best interests of that child. This may not always correspond with the wishes of the child or of the primary carer. Where there is a conflict between the needs of the child and the carer, decisions should be made in the child's best interests.

The primary carer and any agencies that have contributed to the assessment should be informed of the outcome.

4.5 Monitoring

An initial period of monitoring of all correspondence and telephone calls of prisoners presenting a risk to children must be completed. Monitoring may then continue, subject to the interception risk assessment process being carried out and regularly reviewed. Staff monitoring calls and correspondence should be particularly alert to any attempts to groom or manipulate a child or carer. They should also be aware of references made about children in general correspondence. Staff should be aware of any references that suggest a child may be at risk of abuse other than of a sexual nature, including female genital mutilation and abuse linked to faith and belief.

4.6 Correct Identification of Children

It is necessary to take steps to prevent a child being substituted with another possibly more vulnerable child where visits take place. Prison staff monitoring calls, correspondence and visiting areas need to be vigilant and prevent any inappropriate contact where identified.

Four passport style photographs will be required of each child and these should be updated annually or earlier if there is a significant change in a child's appearance.

4.7 Reviewing Contact Decisions

All contact decisions should be reviewed at least annually, or earlier if there is reason to believe that circumstances have changed or where there has been an increase / decrease in risk.

Reviews must be based on updated information from all agencies involved in the original multi-agency risk assessment, and decision-making must be supported by the prison safeguarding risk panel or equivalent. Prisoners must be informed of any change in contact restrictions following a review.

4.8 Appeals Process

There are procedures for prisoners who wish to appeal a decision to restrict contact or not to permit any contact at all with a child.

4.9 Disclosure

In principle, all information taken into account, and the reasons for the decision, should be disclosed to the prisoner, although the prison can determine the form in which it should be shared. There are three options:

  • Full disclosure - providing the information as it stands;
  • Redacted version of the information - this is suitable where sensitive details are omitted while still providing the prisoner with the information that they need to know;
  • A gist or summary of information - this applies where a redacted version does not meet the need for withholding the information.

If any part of the information considered for disclosure has been provided by another agency, the prison must, in writing, inform them of the possibility of disclosure. The prison is not seeking permission to share the information; instead, it is asking the agency whether there are any barriers to or concerns about disclosing (any part of) the information to the prisoner. Reasonable attempts should be made to contact the agency and it should be provided with a deadline for a response.

4.10 The Visit

The passport-style photograph provided at primary carer support stage should be used by visits staff to check the identity of the child attending the visit. Staff should be alert to possibility that an "approved" child could be substituted with another, possibly more vulnerable child.

Where prisoners have been granted child contact, staff should observe:

  • The child's appearance, including the appropriateness of their dress;
  • The interaction between the child and the prisoner, including the child's body language; and
  • Any change in behaviour of the child and/or interaction with the prisoner should the accompanying adult absent themselves from the visiting table.

Any signs of neglect, abuse inappropriate behaviour or distress must be reported using the security incident reporting process. The manager with public protection policy or equivalent should be provided with a copy of the report. An immediate referral should be made to Children and Families Division if there is concern for the safety or welfare of a child.