Prison Visits

Types of prison visits

There are two types of prison visits:

  • Social visits from friends and family members of the prisoner
  • +Official visits from legal advisors and other professionals

Official visits are not counted as part of a prisoner’s entitlement to social visits. These are additional visits allowed by prisoners on top of their entitlement.

The person seeking to visit must first receive a visiting order ‘VO’ which is completed by the prisoner and sent to them. This will state the name and address of those visiting, and a unique reference number to be used when booking the prison visit. Today, you can book a visit online to see someone in prison, making the process much easier than it used to be.

How often can a prisoner have visitors?

A prisoner on remand awaiting trialis allowed three 1-hour visits per week.A convicted prisoner is allowed at least two 1-hour visits every four weeks.

Prisons have different rules relating to visiting issues such as when and how often you can visit someone in prison, and how many visitors you can have at any one time. For example, some prisons will increase the amount of visits a prisoner is entitled to as reward for good behaviour.

A prisoner can also ask for a temporary transfer to a prison closer to their home address in some circumstances, for instance, because their main visitor has medical problem such that visiting is difficult. Where prisoners live a long way from home/family, they may be able to save up their visits and enjoy lengthier visits when a loved one is able to visit.

Privileged visits

In addition to the basic level of prison visits, prisoners are also entitled to privileged visits under the Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme. Every prison has a status based on their behaviour – Basic, Entry, Standard and Enhanced. By sticking to the rules and displaying good behaviour, a prisoner can be rewarded by longer and/or more visits.

These can be granted by the discretion of the prison Governor to reward good behaviour, or for the prisoner’s welfare. Privileged visits are used as an effective incentive scheme for prisoners. Conversely, privileged visits can be curtailed if the prisoner breaks the rules.

The specific entitlements of privilege visits will differ from prison to prison, but the usual scheme includes:

  • Basic level – same level as usual prison allowance of visits.
  • Standard level – at least 3 visits every 28 days with the possibility of including added features to the visits depending on the prison facilities.
  • Enhanced – 4 or 5 one hour visits every 28 days. Where a prison can accommodate, a prisoner may be given the choice of day and time for the visit, and also use of enhanced facilities such as visiting areas

Conditions for social visits

All prisoners are entitled to a visit within 72 hours of arrival at the prison. It is the duty of the staff at the prison to inform each prison of this entitlement.

  • A prisoner can usually have up to 3 adult visitors at any one time. Any accompanying children will be allowed outside the limit of visits. Note that a child aged at 10-12 years is an adult for seating purposes
  • Social visits must take place in an area that is within hearing range and sight of staff
  • Reasonable physical contact between prisoner and visitor is permitted
  • A prisoner is allowed to embrace their visitor at least at the beginning and end of the visit
  • Young children will be allowed a greater level of contact with the prisoner
  • Food, drinks and toys for children should be available within visiting areas to make the visits feel comfortable
  • The environment must be relaxed and as informal as possible for both prisoners and visitors, in particularly, children
  • Visits can be conducted in any language, except where the prison governor requests the visit to be conducted in English or monitored by a native speaker for security reasons

Conditions for Official visits

The conditions for official visits are almost the same as those for social visits. However, they do not take place where anyone else can hear them, for instance, visits by lawyers, because of their confidential nature.

Prison visit for Category A prisoners

Visitors to Category A prisoners must be security checked by the police and approved prior to entering the prison grounds, which means their visit will likely be delayed. The prison governor will have discretion to allow close relatives in under closed conditions prior to approval being granted.

When visitors arrive at the prison

When a visitor arrives at the prison, they will need to present their VO which contains:

  • The names of all the visitors
  • Visitors’ dates of birth
  • Visitors’ addresses
  • Relationship to the prisoner for all visitors under the age of 18

Visitors must also provide identification, such as a passport or driving license. If a visitor does not have any of these forms of identification they must contact the prison prior to a visit.

Visitor’s possessions

When a visitor arrives at the prison, they will usually have to leave their personal possessions such as mobile devices, bags and any medication in a private locker in the visitors’ area of the prison.

Food and drink are not usually allowed to be given to prisoners during a prison visit. What a visitor can take into the visit will differ between prisons, and each visitor should check with the prison first.

Anything a visitor takes into the visit must be handed over to the officer in charge to check before it can be approved. A visitor may also be searched. If they refuse a search, they can be refused entry to the prison.

Inter-prison visits

Visits are allowed between two prisoners at different prisons who are close relatives. Subject to each prison’s security measures, availability of transport and accommodation, prisoners may be transferred to another prison for such visits to take place. Where inter prison visits are exceptionally difficult to organise, the prison governors should consider the use of video-link facilities instead.

Every prisoner is entitled to one inter-prison visit every three months and this will take up one ‘normal’ visiting order.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.