The Rights of Prisoners

Entitlements of those in custody

Prisoner rights and entitlements are outlined in the published rules available in the prison libraries. Prisoners can request to see such regulations in the Prison Standing Orders (PSO’s) and Prison Service Instructions (PSI’s) with further information available from HM prison service.

When incarcerated, prisoners no longer hold the same civil liberties as the rest of the population such as the suspension of the right to vote. However, obviously they are still afforded protection under the Human Rights Act, the European Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights.


It is classed as discrimination, and illegal for a prisoner to be treated unfairly due to race,sex,disability, sexuality or religious beliefs.

Health care

Full NHS care is provided in prison, including mental health services. Outside specialists can be called in when necessary and the prisoner can also be moved to a prison with different facilities, alternatively, they may be moved to a local NHS hospital, where the prisoner is still under the control of the Prison Service.

Personal property

Depending on individual prison policy, generally inmates are allowed to keep items in their cell that can be kept in no more than two boxes. If inmates have more than the amount of property that can be kept in two boxes, the prison may store some items unless they are in prison on remand.

Similarly, if a prisoner arrives at prison with money on their person they can have it placed in a private cash account.

Study and Work in prison

When prisoners work or take part in training or study in prison, money earned from this is the prisoners own, credited to their ‘earnings account’ with money from which they can spend or if there is any in there upon release, it can be taken from the prison in cash.


Mail policies vary from prison to prison, however, officially there is no set limit to the amount of mail a prisoner can send or receive. In prison, generally inmates can write to whoever they wish although there are some guidelines and restrictions. Governor’s permission is needed, for example when an inmate wishes to publicly advertise for a pen friend, write to the victim, or the family of the victim against whom their offence was committed or write to another prisoner in a different prison.

Incoming and outgoing mail are generally monitored before delivery to make sure content is appropriate, with the exception of confidential legal information. 


In order to be allowed visitors, prisoners are allocated visiting orders (VOs), these are given to prisoners upon reception into prison. When a visitor goes to prison to see an inmate they must produce their VO and ID to gain entry.

Up to 3 people can visit one inmate at a time and most prisons allow 3 visits a week with each lasting an hour, however civil prisoners (people in prison due to civil violation, not criminal activity) can have as many visits as they like. Similarly, when visits are of a legal nature, there is no limit to the frequency of these visits. More stringent rules apply for visitors for category A prisons. The criminal record of the visitor needs to be checked and these checks may take several weeks to clear, exceptions may be made in these cases when a letter is written to the Governor in exceptional circumstances.


When an inmate wants to make a complaint, inmates are to inform a prison officer in the first instance, furthermore, a complaint can be made in writing. Complaints can be escalated through someone senior or a governor, or if necessary, a complaint can be made to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.

Phone calls

A PIN phone system is used to make telephone calls inside prison. Some numbers may be barred by the prison, with premium rate calls certainly being disallowed. Call length may be limited and all calls are monitored unless they are classified as confidential, for example if the call is to or from legal advisors or the Samaritans.

In category A prisons, calls are monitored more strictly.

Upon reception into prison from court, the prison may allow an initial call home.

Prison Reform Trust (PRT)

The guide to prisoner rights has been written by the Prison Service in conjunction with the Prison Reform Trust, this is provided to all prisoners upon reception to prison. Disabled prisoners are given the ‘Information for disabled prisoners’ guide in addition.

Post prison rights

Criminal records: Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

It is the right of a person who has been in prison to benefit from the declaration of their sentence being ‘spent’ under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 once the ‘rehabilitation period’ has elapsed. The rehabilitation period depends on the length of the original sentence, a criminal sentence can only ever be considered spent if the original sentence was less than 2 ½ years.


When applying for jobs, under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, (given that the rehabilitation period has elapsed), former convicts do not have to disclose their previous convictions. Although some jobs are excepted from the act.

Ex convicts also need not disclose previous convictions in certain criminal or civil proceedings or when applying for insurance.

Sex offender register

When individuals are convicted of sex offences, the police need to be made aware of their name and address upon leaving prison, the length of the original sentence will determine how long the ex convict will appear on the register.