Contact with the outside world

All prisoners have the right to receive visits


Prison Rule 35 requires prisoners to have a one-hour visit twice a month. At least one of these visits must take place on weekends. The warden may temporarily suspend this right when the person is placed in solitary confinement and when theyconsider that the behaviour of the person requires it.1

A person in pre-trial detention may receive “as many visits as they wish within such limits and under such conditions as the Secretary of State may prescribe, either generally or in any particular case” (Prison Rule 35).

  • The suspension of visits due to COVID-19 health restrictions resulted in stress and anxiety among prisoners. The organisation Pets as Therapy provided 24 prisons with dogs to help diffuse the harmful effects. One prisoner attested to the positive impact and said it helped him “look forward”.

    / BBC News
  • Some prisoners had only one or two visits during the COVID-19 pandemic. The video call system was fully deployed nine months after the pandemic began and calls were limited to 30 minutes per month. This situation was highly criticised. Family support networks for incarcerated people stated that close to 300,000 children of British prisoners had been “forgotten” during the pandemic. Lawyer Jake Richards estimated that the “lack of mitigating measures” constituted a breach of privacy and family rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.

    / BBC News

Social visits require a permit. There are two types of visits: admission visits, authorised within 72 hours of incarceration, and ordinary visits. The permit can be applied for online, on the government website, or by calling the prison. The visitor must communicate the name of the person to visit, their prison number and date of birth. The prisoner must mention the visitor’s name on their authorised list. The visitor must present a passport photo on arrival.[^PSI 16/2011]

[^PSI 16/2011]: Department of Justice, PSI 16/2011 on Visits and Visitor Services.

Visit permits are granted

within a week

The government website informs the person scheduling their online visit that a confirmation email will be sent to them within one to three days.

People eligible to visit

any person

The facility is required to provide a visiting space that is as “relaxed and informal” as possible. It must have decent facilities, toilets, changing space for babies… Lockers are available for visitors to safely store any items prohibited in detention. Reasonably priced food (snacks, meals, hot or cold drinks…) are available for purchase. They must be adapted for religious, cultural or dietary diets. The number of adult visitors is limited to three for a single prisoner. This number is not limited to children of the same detained parent.[^PSI 16/2011]

[^PSI 16/2011]: Department of Justice, PSI 16/2011 on Visits and Visitor Services.

Prisoners and visitors can meet without physical barriers


A separation device may be imposed during a visit to prevent the introduction of forbidden products or other facts that could jeopardise “the good order and control of the facility”1.

  • The planned launch of a COVID-19 testing programme would quickly allow incarcerated people to hug their loved ones. Prisoners and adult visitors were to be tested before entering the visiting room. If the results were negative, physical contact would be allowed. Nottingham Prison would be the first to pilot this programme.

    / InsideTime

Prisoners are allowed to receive visits from their children or minor relatives


Facilities are required to provide children with adapted equipment and games. Special visits are sometimes authorised in certain facilities for family events.1

  • The Nepacs charity helped children stay in contact with their parents in prison. Prisoners who maintained relationships with their loved ones were 40 % less likely to reoffend. It seems that looking after your children’s needs helped break the cycle of crime in families.

    / Ministère de la Justice
  • Children under 11 years of age were allowed to have physical contact with the person they would visit. People from two different households were allowed to visit a prisoner together.

    / InsideTime

Conjugal visits are allowed


Visitors may bring authorised objects or goods. The PSI 16/2011 defines the list. Objects that are “indecent or obscene, constituting a threat to the security of the prison or are written in coded language” are prohibited.

The visitor is prohibited from releasing anything written by a prisoner intended for publication and from being paid for it.1

In the visiting area, facilities display useful information and a list of the main prohibited objects in several languages and with images.[^PSI 16/2011]

[^PSI 16/2011]: Department of Justice, PSI 16/2011 on Visits and Visitor Services.

Current legislation and policies do not provide for the placement of prisoners in facilities located near their relatives’ place of residence. However, some measures are taken to ensure that family ties are maintained for those who are imprisoned at a distance. Prisoners may apply for temporary transfer to a nearby facility. The duration of such a placement must not exceed that of 26 statutory visits. The prisoner had to waive their visiting rights during the 12 months preceding the reunification.[^PSI 16/2011]

[^PSI 16/2011]: Department of Justice, PSI 16/2011 on Visits and Visitor Services.

Prisoners are allowed to exchange mail

yes, under conditions

Correspondence with any person or body may, at the discretion of the prison governor, be prohibited (under Prison Rule 34). Such a prohibition is possible if there is “reason to believe that the person or body concerned is planning or carrying out activities posing a genuine threat to the safety or good order of the facility or other facilities”.1

The number of letters allowed depends on the type :

  • statutory letter: the weekly number of these letters is fixed and they cannot be banned as a punishment. The mailing costs are paid by the State.
  • priviledged letter: confidential correspondence between a prisoner and his lawyer, a magistrate or any other authorised person or body.
  • special letter: additional letters that are allowed to be sent in a number of circumstances

The number of letters also depends on the status of the prisoner, whether convicted or not. Refer to the PSI49/2011 for further details.

  1. Department of Justice, PSI 49/on the communications from prisoners, p. 8. 

Mail exchanged is subject to control


Most incoming and outgoing mail is subject to staff control.1 “Any letter or other correspondence to or from a prisoner may be read, listened to, recorded or examined by the prison governor. They may, at their discretion, intercept or stop any letter or other correspondence if its contents are objectionable or unusually long” (Rule 34.4).

Refer to the Legal and confidential mail section of the PSI 49/2011 to find out the list of bodies and individuals benefiting from confidential exchanges.

Prisoners are allowed to exchange mail in sealed envelopes


All mail can be checked. The prison governor may open a legally confidential letter if they have “reasonable grounds to believe that it is accompanied by illegal material, is not genuinely a letter from legal counsel, or that its contents jeopardise prison security, the safety of others, or is in any way criminal”.1

  1. Department of Justice, PSI 49/2011 on communications from prisoners, p. 18. 

Prisoners are allowed to receive parcels


Relatives or family members of prisoners are no longer allowed to send objects to them by post or during visits. 1 Exceptional authorisation may be granted. Before purchasing or sending any object, relatives are required to obtain authorisation from prison staff.2

  1. See the site of Prisoners’ Families Helpline. 

  2. Department of Justice, Staying in touch with someone in prison

  • Families and friends of prisoners would be allowed to send them books directly. The Ministry of Justice confirmed this possibility after several complaints were sent to Inside Time. Some prisoners said they were told that they could only buy books from approved retailers. The Prison Service wrote to all prison directors in July to remind them of this rule which is nationwide.

    / InsideTime

E-mail exchange is possible


Some prisons provide access to the service Email a prisoner. The dispatched message is printed and transmitted to the prisoner by staff. Each e-mail costs 40 pence. Prisoners are allowed, in some institutions, to reply also via Email a prisoner.1

Prisoners are allowed to make external phone calls


The authorised call time is normally more than two hours per day.

It is possible, by using the service Prison Voicemail, to exchange voice mails with a prisoner.

Prisoners are allowed to call


Prisoners are provided, upon authorisation, with a list of telephone calls. This list includes up to 20 personal numbers and 15 legal and confidential numbers. In addition to these 35 numbers, they can contact other organisations: the Prison Reform Trust, the Samaritans, the Prison and Probation Ombudsman (PPO), the Crimestoppers association, the courts and the Palace of Westminster, the seat of Parliament. Prisoners do not have access to business numbers, except to communicate with family members or relatives.

The phones are located

  • in the corridors
  • in the cell

Telephones are now present in the cells of some facilities. The cost is lower and it makes family ties easier.1 In 2018, the British government announces, a seven million pound plan to expand the installation of phones in cells. The plan also includes the installation of digital kiosks for making visit requests and other similar tasks.

  1. Prison Reform Trust, Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile, Autumn 2018, p. 54. 

  • The government indicated that all closed women’s prisons had telephones in their cells from then.

    / InsideTime

The cost of phone calls is in line with market prices


A 30-minute call to a landline costs £2.75 on working days. A call to a mobile phone costs £6.12. A 30-minute call from a public payphone costs on the outside, 60 pence.1

  1. Inspectorate of Prisons, Life in prison: Earning and spending money, January 2016, p. 7. 

Phones calls are wire tapped


Calls are monitored and recorded by prison staff. Calls to lawyers or to bodies listed in Prison Rule 39 are not.

The use of cell phones is authorised


Prisoners have access to video calls with external contacts