In our news item on 8 January 2021, we advised that HMIPS had taken the difficult decision to temporarily suspend on-site monitoring and liaison visits to prisons and court custody units (CCU), but explained that we would review that decision on a fortnightly basis. Our decision to suspend on-site activities was made reluctantly, and only in response to the additional risks posed by the new variant to COVID-19 to our Independent Prison Monitors (IPMs), those working and living in our prisons, the risk of transmission back into the community and the concomitant potential for additional pressure on the NHS.
However we continue to recognise that the need for effective scrutiny of the conditions and treatment of prisoners has never been more important than during a pandemic and we have now had the opportunity to conduct a risk assessment and survey our team of volunteer IPMs.
Accordingly I have concluded that it will be possible to resume some element of on-site monitoring from Monday 8 February. We do not expect to be able to provide on-site monitoring in all prisons, or every week in any prison, but we will resume a blended model of some on-site visits, where practical, alongside phone calls to prisoners and SPS staff and data analysis in line with the published remote monitoring framework. IPMs and indeed all our staff making on-site visits will of course comply with all infection control measures required by the Scottish Prison Service in line with Health Protection Scotland and Scottish Government guidance.