Inside Time Articles

Ryan Harman, PRT's advice and information service manager, writes a regular column for the prison newspaper Inside Time, you can read his articles here.

Being held far from family and friends
01/06/2017 00:01:00 by Ryan Harman

When visiting a category B local prison recently, someone described to me the value of a visit from a family member whilst he is in prison. “Everyday in prison things happen which build up stress and frustration,” he said “and then you see your family and it is like that tension has been released and you can carry on again”.

Sadly, for some people arranging a visit from family or friends is not always easy.  Many people are held in establishments far from their loved ones. Expensive and time consuming journeys are not always possible, particularly when those journeys involve multiple and unreliable transportation or if a family member has health problems or mobility difficulties. Juggling work and childcare commitments with available visit slots can also be a major challenge.

There are no quick solutions to this problem but there are a few things worth trying. Most simply, you can request a transfer to another prison closer to home. You can do this by putting in an application to the OCA at the prison, letting them know what prison or area you would prefer to be in. Explain why this move would benefit you and any difficulties you are having at the current prison. If you can provide evidence of these, such as proof of medical difficulties faced by a family member, this may increase your chances of success. Any prison you request to be transferred to will need to be for the same security categorisation as you are at the time.

You should be aware that you have no legal right to be transferred to a prison of your choice, so it is down to the discretion of the involved prisons and availability of space. However Prison Rules 1999 do say that ‘Special attention shall be paid to the maintenance of such relationships between a prisoner and his family as are desirable in the best interests of both’ so consideration should at least be given to this.

Another option may be to apply for accumulated visits. This means saving up your visits allowance and using them in a shorter space of time. You could use these at your current prison so that your family do not have to make multiple journeys or ask to be temporarily transferred closer to home to use them.

PSI 16/2011 Providing Visits and Services to Visitors explains that you are eligible to apply for accumulated visits six months after transfer from the local prison you were sent on conviction. After this, you are eligible to apply for further accumulated visits every 6 months as long as you have minimum of 6 months left to serve. You may be able to accumulate up to 26 statutory visits during any twelve-month period. There is more information about accumulated visits in Annex A of PSI 16/2011.

You should also have been made aware of the Assisted Prison Visits Scheme (APVS) which provides financial assistance to prisoners’ close relatives, partners or sole visitors. To be eligible they must be on a low income or in receipt of certain benefits such as income support or income based job seekers allowance. The APVS covers the cheapest method of public transport for the journey and can sometimes include support for light refreshments, and even accommodation and childcare costs in some cases. For more information on criteria and how to apply, ask a member of staff at the prison, or contact us on the details below.

You can contact the Prison Reform Trust’s advice team at FREEPOST ND6125 London EC1B 1PN. Our free information line is open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday 3.30-5.30. The number is 0808 802 0060 and does not need to be put on your pin. Please note, the above article covers prisons in England and Wales and may not apply elsewhere.

URGENT CORRECTION: Further to our article last month about extended sentences, we would like to add an important detail which we unintentionally left out about release arrangements for Extended Determinate Sentences.

If you were sentenced to an Extended Determinate Sentence before 13 April 2015 for a specified offence listed in Schedule 15B of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 you will be required to apply for parole at the two-thirds stage of the custodial term of your sentence rather than being released automatically, regardless of you sentence length.

We would like to sincerely apologise to anyone who was misled by the omission of this detail. If in doubt, please contact us our service as above.