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.

Leave to visit dying relatives or attend a funeral
01/02/2018 00:01:00 by Ryan Harman

One of the greatest hardships being in prison is missing out on significant family moments, and the most difficult of these can be the passing and funeral of a loved one. We receive occasional contact from people who are desperate to see a parent, partner or other family member who is dying, or to attend a family funeral, and it is evident that it is a painful and distressing time for both the person in prison and their families outside. If you do find yourself in this difficult situation you should be aware there are things you may be able to request to try to avoid missing these important moments.

You may be able to apply for a ‘Special Purpose Licence’ (SPL). An SPL is a type of Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL), which is described in PSI 13/2015 as “a short duration temporary release, often at short notice, that allows eligible offenders to respond to exceptional, personal circumstances and to wider criminal justice needs”.  Temporary release on SPL is only given for as long as needed for the visit, so is normally only a few hours – though it can be longer if necessary, for example to accommodate travel. You can apply for SPL at any point in your sentence, unless you are subject to Restricted ROTL or excluded from ROTL – if you are unsure if this applies to you speak to staff or contact us as below. If you are subject to Restricted ROTL you must be in or suitable for open conditions and in a prison that offers Restricted ROTL before being considered. Amongst the compassionate reasons an SPL can be given is for visits to dying relatives, funerals or other tragic personal circumstances. An application for SPL is subject to normal risk assessment processes but the PSI clearly states that it should normally be granted when requested for this reason.

PSI 13/2015 defines a close relative as your spouse/life partner, your fiancé/fiancée, siblings including half or step siblings, your child or a parent. It includes a person who has been ‘in loco parentis’ - which means they have been ‘in place of a parent’ to you and had some of the legal responsibilities for you that a parent would have. It also includes someone who you have been ‘in loco parentis’ for. Governors should also consider other close caring relationships that may occur in extended families. Be aware that you may have to provide evidence of the nature and closeness of your relationship with the person. If your request is to visit a dying relative it is also important that they clearly want to see you, if they are currently able to express a view about this.

We often hear that slow decision making results in requests being responded to at the very last minute or too late. Be clear about how urgent the request is and don’t hesitate to speak to staff if you are worried it is not being dealt with. The PSI reminds Governors that requests of this nature will often be time sensitive and it should be possible for decisions to be taken at short notice.

If you are not considered suitable for ROTL you may be able to attend a funeral or visit a dying relative under escort. An escort means having a minimum of two officers with you, and may include the use of restraints if the risk assessment suggests this is needed.

Information about escorts is included in PSI 33/2015 External Prisoner Movements which clearly states that “there is no ban on a prisoner of any category attending a funeral of a close relative”. It also says that applications “should be assessed on an individual basis taking care to balance security considerations with those of decency, and should only be refused on security grounds, which need to be clearly evidenced in the risk assessment”. This means that distance or costs can be taken into account but you should not be refused solely on this basis if there are no security grounds. Solutions such as a temporary transfer to a closer prison should be considered in cases where this would be useful.

If you are having difficulty getting a response to your request for SPL or an escort, you may find it helpful to speak to a chaplain, the IMB or to contact our service using the details below.

You can contact the Prison Reform Trust’s advice team at FREEPOST ND6125 London EC1B 1PN. Please be aware that our free information line times have changed. It is now open 3.30pm-5.30pm on Monday and Thursday, and 10.30am-12.30pm on Wednesday. The number is 0808 802 0060 and does not need to be put on your pin.