INMATES at the North east’s two main prisons are to take part in a pilot “virtual visiting” project to keep in touch with their families when the two gaols close next year to pave the way for the area’s new ‘super prison’ at Peterhead.
Prisoners at both Craiginches in Aberdeen and Peterhead will be transferred to prisons in the south when the two Victorian gaols are replaced by the £140 million HM Prison Grampian in Peterhead, Scotland’s first “community facing” prison.
Leading prisoners’ charities have already warned that the creation of a single jail at Peterhead could lead to the break up of inmates’ families of because of travel problems.
But today the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) unveiled proposals for inmates to keep in contact with their families during the transition period through a video link being set up in Aberdeen at the local offices of prisoners’ charity Apex Scotland.
A spokesman for the SPS explained: “The pilot project which will offer eligible prisoners’ families the opportunity to take part in visits by video link is due to launch in January, catering for the families of prisoners who will be relocated from Aberdeen and Peterhead prison ahead of HMP Grampian opening in March.
“Peterhead will close in December, followed by Aberdeen in January. The project will be run by Apex Scotland from its base in Aberdeen, in partnership with the SPS. SPS is funding the project.”
He continued: “The proposals are at a very early stage, as the arrangements for the mobilisation of prisoners to alternative establishments, mainly Perth and Barlinnie, are still being prepared. Visitors will be able to book a visit by video link via HMP Perth, which will liaise with Apex Scotland to ensure arrangements are in place ahead of the scheduled date. Two rooms will be equipped within Apex to facilitate the project, and visits will be offered in half hour slots. Evening sessions will also be made available.
No new equipment
“Existing video link equipment from Aberdeen will be utilised for the project at the Apex hub so no new equipment will be required there, while both Perth and Barlinnie have existing facilities, used for agents’ visits, that will be expanded to incorporate the new project”
He said: “Information for families who are eligible for the scheme will be supplied by the SPS and Apex Scotland nearer the time of the launch. Following the closure of Aberdeen and Peterhead, all prisoners who would have been placed within those establishments will receive information on their induction into custody about the scheme.”
The spokesman added: “The SPS recognises the importance of encouraging and assisting prisoners to have positive relationships with their loved ones, as maintaining links with family can offer benefits in terms of reintegration back into the community and reduce the risk of reoffending.
“Providing video link facilities for families from the North east to maintain contact with those in custody prior to the opening of HMP Grampian is part of that process.”
Audrey Mooney, the governor of Craiginches prison, explained: “It saves money and saves time. But, most importantly, it allows regular contact for the prisoner who could feel a bit remote during that time. It would be hoped that this pilot can be rolled out on a permanent basis after the pilot period is finished.”
Gerard McEneany, Apex Scotland’s operations manager, said: “Visiting will be much more problematic so this will be really good opportunity to keep that link going.”