Property in prison

What happens to my property when I arrive at prison?

A member of prison staff will make a list of everything you brought with you. You may be able to keep some things with you – this is called ‘in possession’ property.

PSI 12/2011 Prisoners’ Property states the following:

'Property held in possession by any prisoner must be limited to that which fits into two standard size volumetric control boxes and an ‘outsize item’ unless the Governor agrees, exceptionally, to a prisoner holding property in excess of that limit or it is an item which is exempt from volumetric restrictions.'

A property box measures 70cm x 55cm x 25cm. You can fill two of these.

Each prison has rules about what you can keep in your possession.

Some items are only allowed if you are at a certain privilege level. You normally start on ‘entry’ or ‘standard’ level. Some items are only permitted if you earn ‘enhanced’ level. You can also lose permission to have some items if you are reduced to ‘basic’ level.

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


There are limits on how many clothing items you can have of one type.

  • You can have 9 lower garments (trousers, skirts, jeans, tracksuit trousers and leggings). These should not be black, except for leggings.
  • You can have up to 15 upper garments (sweatshirts, cardigans, shirts, t-shirts).
  • You can have up to 6 dresses
  • You are allowed one jacket or coat. It cannot be black, padded or have a hood.
  • You are allowed a maximum of 10 pairs of socks or tights and unlimited underwear if it fits in the two property boxes (as above).

Other clothing items such as dressing gowns, nightwear, gloves and scarves are also allowed. Full details can be found in the facilities list in PSI 30/2013 Incentives and Earned Privileges.

Certain items of clothing are NOT permitted:

  • Any clothing with a hood
  • Studded clothing
  • Uniform or Military style clothing
  • Team shirts, such as football, rugby, hockey, or basketball shirts
  • Any clothing that is offensive or has inappropriate slogans or motifs
  • Clothing that may lead the wearer to be mistaken for a member of staff
  • Clothing that is in a poor state of repair, or has been designed to look like it, for example ripped jeans
  • Clothing which does not meet ‘basic standards of modesty and decency’.


You can have 3 pairs of shoes, though usually no more than 2 pairs of trainers. You cannot have shoes with hook and eye fastening or steel toe caps. Stiletto heels are not allowed.


You can keep a plain ring like a wedding ring or signet ring. You cannot keep a ring with raised patterns or stones, like an engagement ring.

You can have one earring/stud/sleeper per piercing as worn on initial reception.

You can have a lightweight chain, which can have attached religious symbols but no medallions.

You can have a digital or analogue watch, but no data storage or additional smart function.

You should be advised not to keep any valuable property with you especially if it is worth more than £100.

Personal hygiene and cosmetics

You are allowed some items for personal hygiene and grooming, such as a hair brush, a toothbrush, tweezers,

Electric items such as a hair dryer or electric shaver are allowed subject to privilege level.

You will not usually be able to take in cosmetics, such as make up, or toiletries such as shower gel or soap. Necessary toiletries should be provided by the prison, and other items you can buy from canteen.

PSI 17/2016 The Care and Management of Transgender Offenders contains additional guidance about items needed to maintain gender identity for transgender prisoners.

Photos – families/children

You can take in a photograph album or frame. There must be no indecent photographs. Photos of children can sometimes be refused if it could cause a risk to the child.

Hobbies and other items

You are allowed some other items to assist with activities such as:

  • Writing pads, pencils and pens
  • Items for hobbies such as knitting, painting or music
  • Items such as jigsaws or playing cards
  • Books

Items required for faith                                     

You should be able to keep items and books that are required by your religion. There is more information about this in our information sheet about ‘Faith in Prison’ and in PSI 05/2016 Faith and Pastoral Care for Prisoners

Disability aids

If you have a disability you should be allowed keep disability aids in possession, though they may be subject to security checks.

Stored property

Some items are not allowed to be in your possession. These include:

  • Mobile phones and other banned items
  • Cash and valuable items
  • Property which does not fit into two boxes

You should give any extra things you cannot keep to visitors when they come to see you, especially expensive or valuable things.

Anything you cannot keep or give to visitors will be put into sealed bags and kept in a safe place inside or outside the prison until you leave. This is known as your stored property.

Prison staff will ask you to sign a form (property card) when:

  • you get to a prison to say you have seen what prison staff have put into the bags and the bags have been closed in front of you
  • when you get to or leave a new prison to say that your things are still ok
  • when you are released from prison to say all your things are there.
When you are released from prison you will get all of your things back, apart from anything that is against the law.

This property should also be transported with you if you are transferred to another prison. There is more information on this in PSI 12/2011 Prisoners Property

Sending in parcels

After you have been convicted, you may be allowed a one-off parcel of clothing to be sent in by family.

 If you are unconvicted you can receive more than one parcel of clothing as well as writing materials, as long as they fit in your property boxes.

You can ask families and friends to send or hand in books for you. They will not be allowed to hand books directly to you; they will need to be left with staff to process.


What responsibility does the prison have for my property?

In possession property

The Prison Service does not normally accept responsibility for property held ‘in possession’.

However there are a few times when the prison might be responsible. This could be if you were prevented from looking after your property by the prison and they fail to take care of it for you. For example, if you are moved to a new cell without being able to collect your property or if staff unlock your cell when you are not on the wing to look after it.

PSI 12/2011 Prisoners Property says that property left in a vacated cell should be secured and checked as soon as possible. Two members of staff should be present and should make sure all in-possession property left is recorded on a Cell Clearance Certificate, which is kept with the property record cards. If it is a shared cell, the remaining prisoner should be present to identify their own property.

The cleared property should be placed in property bags and sealed. When this property is returned to you, the property bags should be unsealed in your presence so that you can check the contents.

If the above procedure has not been followed, the prison may be considered responsible for any loss or damage to your property.

Stored property

It is the prison’s responsibility to keep your stored property safe and undamaged.

PSI 12/2011 says that, other than some brief temporary absences, all prisoners’ in possession property, valuables and locally stored property should accompany them when they are discharged if they are not expected to return, including court appearances. This is subject to volumetric control levels

If you have been moved to another prison any property that did not come with you should be transferred as soon as possible.

What should I do if I think the prison has lost my property?

If you believe that the guidelines have not been followed properly and this has resulted in loss or damage of your property you should make a complaint using the prison complaints system.

Give as much detail as possible as to what items have been lost or damaged, where and when the items were purchased and the value of each item.

If property was lost during transfer you can make the complaint at your current prison and they should pass it on to your previous prison and make sure you get a response. You should not be asked to contact the sending prison directly. The response may be provided by the sending prison but it is up to the receiving prison to request and chase this for you. The time limit for responses to stage 1 or stage 2 complaints involving another establishment is 10 working days rather than the usual 5.

If you are not satisfied by the responses after both stages of this process you can write to the Prison and Probation Ombudsman. They can look into it and recommend the prison pays compensation if they think they are responsible.

You could also start a claim in a County Court, though be aware that legal aid is generally not available for this.

Further information

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

PSI 30/2013 Incentives and Earned Privileges

PSI 12/2011 Prisoner’s Property


Information sheets

Prisoner’s Advice Service information sheet about Property Claims

For a print-ready version of this information, click here.