Northern Ireland: Coronavirus: Zoom calls reunite prisoners with families

New video calls at Maghaberry Prison are allowing inmates to connect with a wider circle of friends and family outside than ever before.

Face-to-face visits at UK prisons have been suspended during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But Northern Ireland’s maximum security jail has become one of the first in the UK to allow inmates to make Zoom calls to people all over the world.

For some prisoners, it has meant seeing family for the first time in years.

“We have quite a number of foreign national prisoners who’ve been here for a lengthy period of time, and have never seen their loved ones,” said prison governor David Kennedy.

“Other prisoners haven’t seen their homes, their pets or elderly relatives for a long time, it’s been really beneficial to them.”

‘Successful beyond expectations’

Before the pandemic only face-to-face visits were permitted.

“In 32 years, I don’t remember visits ever being suspended for anything more than a day or two, due to weather,” Mr Kennedy said.

“So we knew that stepping away from family contact could have a big impact on the prisoners in our care.

“It took us three weeks to get the virtual visits up to speed, but they have now been successful beyond our expectations.”

BBC News was given special access at HMP Maghaberry to sit-in on a virtual visit with a prisoner – we’ve changed his name to Darren.

As we approach the computer terminal, Darren’s family appear on screen and there is immediate laughter.

He has shaved his head since their last call and they are seeing the new look for the first time.