Transferring Prisons

Why may a prisoner be transferred?

There are many reasons why a prisoner serving his sentence in one prison may be transferred to another during their sentence. These include:

  • their security category has changed (eg, they no longer need to be kept in such a high security facility and can be transferred to an open prison);
  • to serve the final weeks of their sentence in a prison closer to their home;
  • their sentence plan requires them to complete a course which is unavailable at the prison they are in (eg, drug and alcohol, or anger management schemes);
  • their behaviour is disruptive;
  • the routine transfer of Category A prisoners for security reasons;
  • for their own safety if they are being bullied in the original prison;
  • if their main visitor has a medical problem making visits impossible.

Can a prisoner request a transfer?

Under s 12 of the Prison Act 1952, a prisoner can be lawfully confined to any prison. A prisoner does not have the legal right to request which prison to serve their sentence in, or to be transferred to a prison of their choice.

A prisoner may apply to be transferred to a different prison, but whether this is granted will usually be for the prison governor to decide. The prisoner can request a transfer via the prison request system, or on a form provided by the Prison Service. They will usually receive a response within seven days of application.

Transfer requests will not usually be considered unless the prisoner has served a few months at their current facility.

Prison location policy

Although the prisoner has no legal right of transfer, the Prison Service has a location policy that aims to encourage contact between prisoners and their families, as well as minimise the harmful effects of removing the prisoner from society.

The Prison Service also has an obligation to ensure a prisoner’s safety and wellbeing is maintain, which may include transferring a prisoner to another location if that prisoner is suffering from bullying or harassment by fellow prisoners.

These factors may influence the governor’s decision, but ultimately the decision is at his discretion.

Transfer refusal

If a prisoner has applied for a transfer which is refused, they may appeal the decision through the prison complaints system. They are entitled to receive a reply within six weeks of lodging the complaint.

If the prisoner is still not satisfied with the response and explanation, he or someone on his behalf, with his permission, may write to the Prison and Probation Ombudsman. This letter must be completed within one month of receiving the refusal or unsatisfactory response from the Prison Service.

A prisoner would not generally have any grounds for pursuing legal action in these circumstances as the law clearly states that a prisoner can legally be held in any prison. There is an option for the High Court to judicially review a decision by the Prison Service, but this is unlikely to be successful unless the prisoner could prove truly exceptional circumstanced warranting a prison transfer

Can a prisoner be transferred without informing the family?

If a prisoner is granted a prison transfer, they will also be entitled to send a free letter to one person who visits them. They may, again at the discretion of the prison governor, be granted an additional free letter and/or a free phone call.

Category A prisoners, who are often transferred during their prison sentence for security reasons, are usually not informed of the move or given very short notice. In these cases, the prisoner may leave details with his former prison of who needs to be contacted and informed of their move. The prison officials will then contact these people.

Failure to inform relatives of prisoner transfer

Where the prison has been unable to contact family members, or chosen not to inform anyone of a prisoner’s transfer, family members may be able to find out this information from the allocations unit of the prison the prisoner has left.

If this option is not available, or the prison will not provide such information, relatives may contact the Prisoner Location Service in Birmingham, providing them with as much detailed information about the prisoner as possible such as:

  • prisoner name;
  • date of birth;
  • details of the offence convicted of;
  • relationship to the prisoner.

Providing the prisoner is happy for the Prisoner Location Service to disclose their whereabouts to the enquiring relative, the service will provided them with the information within 3-4 weeks, depending on how quickly they can establish the prisoner’s location.

Temporary transfers

It may be possible for a prisoner who is detained miles away from his home, to save up his prison visits and apply for a temporary transfer to a local prison, usually for a period of up to 28 days.

Depending on the rules and regulations of the local prison the person has transferred to, these saved up visits can usually all be taken with the temporary transfer so families do not have to travel extreme distances.

As with a permanent transfer, the prisoner must make the request and it will be up to the governor to decide whether to grant this. The availability of places at the local prison will also be a factor.

Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A non-practising solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.