The rules around prison visits in England and Wales vary depending on the prisoner’s status and the risk associated with that prisoner.

Everyone has certain legal rights, including those accused or convicted of a criminal offence. If you are being held at a police station or prison, contact us at Ashmans Solicitors. We specialise in criminal defence law and can ensure your rights are upheld. We can take your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Prison visits – who can visit and when?

The Covid-19 pandemic impacted prison visits, limiting or preventing visitors altogether. Now restrictions are easing; we are expecting a gradual return to normality. In light of this, our criminal defence solicitors have outlined what is and is not allowed when it comes to prison visits.

First things first: who is allowed to visit and when?

There is no limit to the number of visits a prisoner can have from a legal representative or probation officer. However, regarding social visits from family and friends, the rules depend on the prisoner’s status.

Remanded in custody – if the defendant is being remanded in custody until their trial or sentencing hearing, he or she is allowed a social visit thrice weekly. A visiting order may or may not be needed.

Immediately after conviction – if the defendant is sentenced to jail time, he or she is allowed to have someone visit them within the first 72 hours of their arrival at the prison. This is known as a ‘reception visit’. A visiting order is not needed.

During the prison sentence, a convicted prisoner is entitled to one social visit per fortnight and one weekend visit every four weeks. These visits can be up to one hour long. A visiting order is needed. The prison governor can decide to allow additional visits under certain circumstances.

How Long Are Prison Visits?

Prison visits are 1 hour long.

During a social visit, the prisoner can see three adults and accompanying children. Children under 18 cannot visit a prisoner alone; an adult must accompany them.

What’s allowed during a prison visit?

So long as it is not a ‘closed visit’, the prisoner and the visitor will be seated in the same room. Reasonable physical contact, such as a hug, should be allowed. However, the visitor cannot give anything to the prisoner, like a mobile phone. Visitors must leave all their belongings in a locker before entering the room. To ensure these rules are adhered to, the visitor may be patted down by a prison guard and asked to walk through a security arch, just like you do at the airport.

Closed visits

If prison guards believe there is a reasonable risk that the visitor will smuggle contraband to the prisoner, they may decide that any visits should be ‘closed visits’. The exact nature of a closed visit depends on the prison’s facilities. The visit may be under strict supervision, or the prisoner and visitor may be kept physically separate with a pane of glass. Closed visits do not impact the prisoner’s entitlement to visitors and usually only last for three months, after which the decision should be reviewed.

If any visitors are caught smuggling items into a prison, they can be banned. Again, this decision would usually be re-assessed after three months.

How to visit someone in prison

First, it is necessary to check whether a visiting order is needed. If so, the visiting order must be completed by the prisoner and sent to the visitor. The visitor can then book their visit with the prison in question. This can now be done online.

Visitors to category A (high security) prisons may have to be security checked and approved before visiting.

More Resources

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