KEEPING IN CONTACT WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS

The Prison Rules require prisons to actively encourage prisoners to maintain outside contacts and meaningful family ties


Phones

When I arrive

You should be allowed to make a phone call within 24 hours of arriving at prison.

If there are security concerns a staff member may make this call for you.

At some prisons you can make this call for free, at other you may have to pay after the call.

Phone access

You will be given a Personal Identification Number (PIN) which you must use when you want to make phone calls. You enter this number before dialling the number you want to call.

You have to put money into your PIN account to make a phone call, unless there are exceptional circumstances - see below for more information.

Depending on the local regime, you should be allowed to use the telephones during association and at any other times that are ‘reasonably practicable and appropriate’. You should generally have access to the phones for a period of two hours each day. There is more information in PSI 75/2011 Residential services and our information sheet about Regime and time out of cell.

Are my calls private?

Your calls are recorded and may be listened to by prison staff, unless they are to your legal advisor or one of the organisations list under Rule 39. There is more information about Rule 39 in PSI 49/2011 and in our information sheet about Contact with solicitors and other organisations.


Am I allowed to call any number?

You must apply to have a number added to your PIN account. Once it is approved you can call that number.

You are allowed to have up to 20 social numbers added to your PIN. You are not allowed to add a number on behalf of another prisoner. The prison may check with the intended recipient of your call to make sure that they wish to be contacted by you.

You are not allowed to call businesses unless it is to speak to family and friends.

In addition to this, you can call ‘global’ or ‘estate-wide’ numbers. These are phone numbers that are allowed at all prisons. These include the Prison Reform Trust, the Samaritans, Prison and Probation Ombudsman and Crimestoppers, as well the Courts and the Palace of Westminster. There is a full list in in PSI 49/2011 and in our information sheet about Contact with solicitors and other organisations.

What about 0800 numbers?

These are not allowed unless the call is to a legal representative or other approved confidential number. These are approved by HMPPS for the whole prison estate.

What if I am in segregation?

You should still have access to phones whilst on segregation.

What happens if I transfer prisons?

Your numbers are not automatically approved when you transfer – speak to prison staff or put in an application if you have any problems with this.

Exceptional Circumstances

If you have an urgent legal matter, such as imminent court proceedings, or a domestic crisis, the prison has the discretion to allow you to make a call for free.


Letters

Generally, you may write to and receive letters from anyone, subject to the acceptability of the contents and any specific restrictions. You must include your name, number, and establishment address on any outgoing correspondence.

How many letters am I allowed to write

You can write as many letters as you wish at your expense subject to any local policy that is in place.

Some prisons restrict the number of pages and number of letters, this might happen where routine reading takes place. But you must be allowed a minimum of 4 sides of A5 paper.

You can write in any language, but if your letter is not written in English and if your letters are routinely read, then your letters may be delayed while translations are obtained.

 

There are 3 types of letters:

 

1)    Statutory letters – these are free to send, you are allowed one per week. The first letter should be issued to you immediately on reception

 

2)  Privilege letter – these are letters that you are regularly allowed to send over and above your statutory entitlement, you pay for these. You can send as many as you wish, except where routine reading takes place.

 

3)    Special letter – these are letters you may be allowed for something urgent. For example:

  • let your family know you are being transferred
  • to make urgent contact with your Offender Manager
  • to notify the relevant Council Tax Officer
  • to write to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.
There is a full list in PSI 49/2011. You normally pay for these, but the prison may pay under certain circumstances, for example on transfer.

The Governor may allow you to accumulate your allowance of statutory and privilege letters.

What if I am on remand and not yet convicted

You are allowed two statutory letters per week and as many privilege letters as you wish.

 

You are also allowed to send special letters under certain circumstances.

 

How many letters can I receive?

If correspondence is not monitored, there is no limit on the number you may receive.

If monitoring is in place, you are allowed to receive as many as you are allowed to send.

However, the Governor has the discretion to place limits if the number of letters received is habitually excessive.

 

Stamped Addressed Envelopes

In exceptional circumstances, the governor can allow you to have stamped addressed envelopes sent in by family members. You will need to ask for this on an application form. You should explain why family contact is important for you at this time.

 

There is more information in PSI 30/2013 Incentives and Earned Privileges.

 

Writing to other prisoners or ex-prisoners

This is at the Governor’s discretion. Approval should be given unless there are specific concerns about safety.


Visits

If you’re a convicted prisoner you are entitled to receive at least one statutory social visit every two weeks and at least one weekend visit every four weeks.These visits must be at least one hour long.

Unconvicted prisoners are entitled to three one hour visits per week, one of which may be on the weekend.

Visits from certain people do not count against your allowance, these people include your lawyer, the Samaritans, MPs and social workers. For the complete list, please see PSI 16/2011 Providing Visits and Services to Visitors.

All visits are allowed subject to security considerations.

Accumulated visits

If your family live a long distance away and find visiting difficult you can apply for accumulated visits. This means saving up your visits allowance and using them in a shorter space of time. You can ask to be temporarily transferred closer to home to use them.

You can accumulate 26 statutory visits in a 12 month period. You normally have to be in your current establishment for at least six months before you can transfer in order to have Accumulated Visits. Transfers will normally be for one month and can take place every 6 months.

Inter-Prison Visits

If you want to visit a close relative who is also in prison you may be allowed  inter-prison visits. Subject to security and transport considerations, Governors should make reasonable efforts to accommodate inter-prison visits. Where inter-prison visits prove exceptionally difficult to organise Governors should consider the use of video-link facilities as an alternative.

Closed visits

Closed visits mean you and your visitor will be separated by a glass screen and cannot make physical contact.

Closed visits may be imposed if the prison feels that there is a risk of smuggling drugs or if there is concern about behaviour that threatens the good order and control of the prison.

Segregation

You should usually still be able to get visits when you are on segregation.

However, your visits may be deferred while you are on segregation. This should only happen if your behaviour makes a visit clearly impracticable or undesirable. At the Governor’s discretion however, visits may take place.

Special Visits

The Governor has the discretion to allow an extra visit above the usual entitlement, for example under compassionate circumstances.

Assisted Prisons Visit

Family and friends can apply for financial help for visits. This can include money for:

  • travel to the prison
  • somewhere to stay overnight
  • meals

They must be getting certain benefits or have a health certificate to get help.

If they are bringing a child with them or someone to help them (for example because they are disabled) they might also be able to get help paying for their visit.

They can contact:

Assisted Prison Visits Unit 
PO Box 2152 
Birmingham 
B15 1SD 

Telephone: 0300 063 2100

Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm


Further information

Useful PSIs and PSOs (these should be available in the library):

PSI 16/2011 Providing Visits and Services to Visitors

PSI 04/2016 The Interception of Communications in Prisons and Security Measures

PSI 49/2011 Prisoner Communications

PSI 30/2013 Incentives and Earned Privileges

Other

Prison Rule 35A (4)


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