SUPPORT FOR THE LOVED ONES OF THOSE IN PRISONs IN THE UK
Prison visits FAQ
It is perfectly normal to be apprehensive before making your first prison visit and so we will aim to answer any questions and ease any anxieties with our visit FAQ. If you have any questions that are unanswered by our FAQ please feel free to drop us a message!
What should I wear?
People wear all sorts of things to prison visits. From a dress and heels to a hoodie and jeans - just dress however you feel most comfortable. The visit process is long and often quite sweaty with everyone waiting around in small crowded rooms so you'll often hear women joking about how they make an effort for their man only to go in looking a sweaty mess. Prisons do tend to have rules regarding clothing but these tend not to be too strict although you're best to check each individual prisons's visiting rules beforehand. Usually the rules consist of no cleavage on show, something covering your thighs, no overly ripped jeans, no midriff on show etc. Overall, just wear what you are happy in and don't flash too much skin.
How long do I get?
Again, this varies from prison to prison. Most prisons have 2 hour visits as standard but others only 1 hour. Some allow you to book double visits, but bare in mind that this will use up 2 visiting orders. If an inmate is on 'basic' they may only get a half hour restricted visit and if they are 'enhanced' they may get longer. It will depend on each prison and what status your loved one has.
How long will I be there?
Visitors are usually advised to arrive at the prison an hour before a visit. Also bare in mind that when the visit is over it takes a while to leave the prison, get your belongings from the visitors centre etc. If possible, when using public transport you are best to book an open return to give yourself plenty of time. It is not unusual for a prison visit to be delayed by an hour for example and so even if you only have a one hour visit, you may actually be in the prison for around 3/4 hours. It tends to be fairly unpredictable. The earlier the visit the less likely your visit will be delayed as there has been less time for anything to happen/go wrong. Visits later in the day tend to be the ones that get delayed.
Are we allowed physical contact?
Physical contact such as a kiss and hug is permitted at the start and end of a visit. Again, this will depend on the prison but it is likely that you will be allowed to hold hands throughout the visit. Some prisons may allow you to kiss over the table during the visit, others will only allow you to kiss at the start and end. Your best bet is to watch those around you. Those who have been before will know how flexible the rules are and so you are best to just observe others.
How does the whole process work?
This will differ slightly in each prison but usually you will arrive at the visitors centre and store your things in a locker (you will need £1) and you will go to the desk and tell them who you are there to see. They will most likely give you a slip that you will hand in later on. As they ask you to arrive quite early you will now have time to sit in the visitors centre, buy a drink etc. Nearer the time of your visit they will call you through to the actual prison. Your fingerprint and photograph will be taken if it is your first time and you will be searched. Depending on the category prison there may be sniffer dogs or a more thorough search. You are then likely to wait around for a while until you are taken into the actual visit hall. When you walk in, you will either be told which table to sit at by a member of staff or they may already be in there and you can just go and find them.
Who will be in first, me or my loved one?
This all depends on the prison, the time slot and lots of other things and so it could be either.
Do I need to take anything?
You will need £1 for your locker and ID to enter the prison - check with the prison what form of ID they accept. You can also take small change if you wish to buy a drink or food in the visit hall. How much you can take in will depend on the individual prison's rules. You will only be allowed to take a small amount of money and your locker key into the actual visit hall. If you have a young child you can take a bag of essentials which will be searched.
When can I visit?
Those in prison are entitled to two visits a month but this could be less if they are on 'basic' or more if they are 'enhanced'. Average visits are either an hour or two hours depending on the prison but this can be shortened to half an hour if on basic. Some prisons offer visits at four different time slots every single day, others only open a few days of the week if they are smaller.
Who can visit?
In order to visit you will need to be on the prisoners approved visitor list and will need to be over 18. Multiple people can visit at a time and you can take children but there are restrictions on this (check with the individual prison).
What are the other visitors like?
In the visiting room you will see people from all walks of life. Wives, parents, children of all backgrounds and any stereotypes you may have will be diminished as you will quickly realise that these people are just normal people. Those who go often may know each other and it's common for people to chat to each other. You may not know the people in that room with you but you are all connected by the fact that you know someone in prison. You will hear stories that you can relate to and finally feel understood. Those visit rooms are one of the most comforting places you can be. Everyone is very supportive and are more than willing to help if you have questions on your first visit.
Is it awkward being in a visit hall with loads of people?
It's likely that once you are in that room and sat down with your loved one you will forget where you are and be focused on just the two of you. You will forget there are people around you and you will forget there are prison guards watching you. It almost feels like just sitting in a big cafe. There will be kids running around and couples kissing and families laughing. It is unlikely to feel like a negative or intimidating atmosphere as in that moment, everyone is at their happiest with their loved ones.
What if I can't afford to visit?
If you can't afford to visit your loved one, there is something called an assisted visit unit where you can apply for help with travel costs. You will need to fill out an application form online (https://www.gov.uk/assisted-prison-visits) for this to see if you are eligible.
For information on visits in each specific prison visit our Individual Prison Info page below.