Introducing HMP Thameside’s Video Conferencing Centre

Earlier this year, despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the constraints of lockdown throughout the country, the brand new Video Conferencing Centre (VCC) was opened at HMP Thameside. Thanks to some excellent work and co-ordination by the Centre’s management team, the VCC was ready for use right on schedule.

Completing this project to such a high standard and delivering it on time was no easy feat. When COVID-19 hit right in the middle of construction, and social distancing became the norm for everyone, only a limited number of contractors could safely work on the VCC at one time. The team faced the challenging task of co-ordinating the workers effectively to keep the project running on time. This included arranging escorts around the perimeter to reduce any contact that may have taken place via the normal routes, arranging for lunches to be delivered to the workers on site so that they would not have to enter into any other spaces and conducting regular meetings to ensure they were sticking to three different sets of COVID safety guidelines. The project required sophisticated co-ordination, and the team went above and beyond by working over weekends to keep things moving.

As well as using the latest video technology, each room is sound-proofed to reduce background noise during important Court proceedings. This is a major upgrade to the previous processes of video links, providing a significantly improved experience for prisoners and staff alike.

Another efficient feature of the VCC is the change from ‘dock’ officers, placed to supervise each room, to patrol officers. Patrol officers take prisoners from their waiting areas to the VCC rooms, and the prisoner is then in the room on their own – monitored visually from the control room. This allows for a far smoother process and more effective use of officers. The VCC staff are currently being trained to embed court etiquette, giving them the confidence to share this knowledge with prisoners before they enter the court room.

On a normal operational day, the VCC will be able to accommodate more than 30 conferences a day. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, this process is obviously somewhat limited; but the Centre is still being used to a high standard. The team is co-ordinating as many prisoners as proper social distancing permits for, meaning that the runners are working very hard!