Visiting Prison - FAQ

If you are a relative or friend of someone in prison, and you are looking for information and support, start by reading our Frequently Asked Questions...

 

How do I arrange a visit?
Visiting procedures vary from prison to prison. It also depends whether the person you are visiting is on remand, or is a convicted prisoner.

To find out what the visiting arrangements are for a particular prison, you can

  • visit the Prison Service website
  • contact us on our freephone helpline on 0808 808 3444.
  • phone the prison directly
  • or ring or email the prison's visitors' centre, if it has one

Can I take the children?
Yes, children can be taken to visit someone in prison. The only exception is if the prisoner has been convicted of a child sex offence; in these cases, special rules apply.

Some prisons have play areas within the prison visits hall, with toys and games and playworkers, which can help to make the visits less scary for children. Find out about the play services Pact runs at various prisons across England.

Some prisons require you to provide ID for children as well as adults. Check with the prison or Visitors' Centre for advice.

Can I get any help with the cost of visiting?
If you are on a low income or you receive benefits, you might be entitled to get help from the government with the cost of visiting your relative in prison. Help is provided by the Assisted Prison Visits Unit (APVU). You can claim for two visits a month.

For more information about the APVU, visit the Ministry of Justice Website.

 

What happens on a visit?

  • it depends whether the prison has a visitors' centre or not. If it does, start by going to the visitors' centre - and ask the staff for help if it's your first time
  • you need to have booked your visit in advance, and you'll need to bring the correct ID with you. If you are visiting a convicted prisoner, you also need to bring a Visiting Order (VO)
  • if this is your first visit, you will still need to book the visit in advance, but you might be required to collect the Visiting Order when you arrive (rather than it coming in the post)
  • you have to leave all your possessions in a locker at the prison or visitors' centre - you can't take anything with you except a bit of loose change to buy drinks and snacks
  • when you go inside the prison, you will be searched, and trained sniffer dogs might search you for drugs
  • then you will go to the visits hall, which is a large room where all the visits take place. The visits hall is a busy room with lots of people
  • some visits halls have play areas, where children can draw pictures and play with toys.
  • some visits halls have coffee bars where you can purchase drinks and snacks. Find out about our "Pact lunch" coffee bars in various prisons

Every prison is different. The staff and volunteers at the visitors' centre can tell you in detail what it's like to visit someone at that particular prison.

What can I give the prisoner?
You can give money to a prisoner, but you can't hand it over to them in person - you have to send it in the post, in the form of a postal order.

You might want to give the prisoner some of his or her property e.g. items of their clothing. At most prisons, there is a property desk where visitors can hand in property for a prisoner. Each prison has its own strict rules about how to submit property, and what items can be handed in, so you should check with the prison before doing anything.

I'm worried about my relative - who do I talk to?
If you are worried about a prisoner who has suicidal feelings or is in danger of harming themselves, please talk to someone straight away. You can either call the visitors' centre, or phone the prison and ask to speak to the Duty Governor or the Orderly Officer.

More sources of help and advice

If you have further questions and would like to speak with a member of the Pact team, please call our freephone prisoners' family and friends helpline on 0808 808 3444.

On the Ministry of Justice website you can find a huge amount of information, including visiting times and procedures for each prison, links to support organisations, a prison 'virtual tour', and much more

  • Visit our links page for links to other organisations that work with prisoners and their families

Prison Service Orders - the official prison guidance on visits and correspondence
The Prison Service is governed by a series of rules, regulations and guidelines known as Prison Service Instructions (PSIs) and Prison Service Orders (PSOs). These are mandatory instructions that all prisons are supposed to abide by.