Campaigners claim children of prisoners in Kent have been “punished” after visits at some jails were suspended for almost six months.
The government stopped visits in England and Wales on 24 March over fears coronavirus could spread quickly among inmates.
It has meant some children haven’t seen their parents in person since before lockdown. Critics say authorities have been too slow to restore contact between prisoners and families.
Tasha Oliver, who is 28 and from Chatham, was heavily pregnant when she last saw her partner at Rochester Prison.
She’s now the mother of his five-month-old son, who hasn’t ever met his father, who’s serving a three-year sentence for burglary.
Tasha says the experience has been “really upsetting, draining, and frustrating”. She says prison officials have been “lazy” and “blaming coronavirus” for the delay in allowing relatives back in.
I think it’s disgusting, they should be ashamed of themselves. They’ve forgotten the prisoners and just tossed them to one side.
Limited in-person visits resumed at HMP Rochester earlier this week, for the first time in more than five months. Until then phone call, letter or one monthly video call have been the only way for loved ones to keep in touch.
Other jails in Kent restarted visits sooner, with East Sutton Park women's prison doing so in July and HMP Swaleside in August.
The Prison Reform Trust (PRT) says families have been experiencing a “mounting sense of anger, frustration and despair”. It wants more access to video calling systems in all jails. It found just 30 of the 120 prisons nationwide had them at the end of July.
It’s been an immensely difficult time for prisoners, and especially their families - who are not prisoners, they haven’t committed crimes and yet they are being published by a lack of contact. Children have a human right to have access to their parents.
The Prison Officers’ Association admits the ban on family visits lasted far longer than anyone was expecting but insists it had to be done.
Dave Cook, from the POA, says: “We’ve suffered very little covid outbreaks in the prison service, despite the initial fears of what might happen, it’s been very well contained. History has proven it was the right decision.”
ITV News Meridian asked the Ministry of Justice for an interview about why it has taken so long for visits to resume at Rochester, but they declined.
Watch Kit Bradshaw's full report here: