I need information about visiting someone in prison. Can you help?

If you need information about visiting someone in prison, please call us

We can tell you about:-

  • How to find out which prison your friend or relative is in.
  • Keeping in touch
  • Visiting times
  • Organising a visit
  • Help with travel costs
  • Travelling to the prison
  • What you need to bring
  • What happens on a visit

I could do with more information about a specific prison including: – the prison address, location, visiting times, healthcare, etc.

For detailed information about prisons in England and Wales, visit the HM Prison Service website for information.

Can you explain about the different security categories in the prison system?

  • When someone first arrives in prison, during the reception procedure, they are classified in a security category. Adult males are placed in one of four categories, ranging from A to D. A is the highest security category and D is the lowest.
  • Unless classified as category A, females and young offenders do not have formal security classification, but are determined as suitable for either open or closed conditions.
  • Someone’s security category is determined by their risk to the public should they escape and their likelihood of escape, rather than by the nature of their offence.
  • Different prisons normally hold (although not always) prisoners of a specific security category.

The different categories

Category A

  • Prisoners classified as Category A are those for whom escape must be avoided at all costs as they pose extreme danger to the public. They are placed in top security prisons.

Category B

  • Prisoners classified as Category B are those for whom the maximal conditions of security are not necessary but for who escape must still be made very difficult.

Category C

  • Prisoners classified as Category C cannot be trusted in open prison conditions, but are seen as not having the resources and motivation to make a determined escape attempt.

Category D

  • Prisoners classified as Category D are those who can be reasonably trusted in open conditions.
  • Prisoners serving longer-term sentences should have their security category reviewed at regular intervals. By the time a prisoner is released they should have moved down to category D.

At which prison will my partner serve their sentence?

Different factors will affect where someone serves their prison sentence. For example:- gender of prisoner; security category and training needs.

  • In the UK, prisons are categorised for either male or female prisoners only. A prisoner can only be sent to a prison of their particular gender. In England and Wales, there are approximately 120 male prisons compared to 16 female prisons.
  • The prison someone is sent to will also depend on their security category (see question 3).
  • Prisoners will often start their sentence in a local prison near to the court where they were sentenced. If the sentence is a short one, they might spend their entire time in custody at that prison.
  • For prisoners serving longer sentences, they are taken to a training prison quite soon after they start their sentence. It may be a prison that provides a specific type of offender treatment programme or offers a course that would be of particular benefit to the prisoner.
  • If a prisoner is unhappy with the location of the prison they have been sent to, they can request for a transfer to a different prison using the prison request/complaints system. There is no guarantee that a transfer to a different prison will be granted.

How do I find a friend or relative I think is in prison?

If the person you are looking for has just been imprisoned, you could contact the Clerk of the Court in which he or she appeared and find out which prison they are in.

What is the difference between a remand prisoner, a prisoner on Judges remand and a convicted prisoner?

  • A prisoner on remand is someone who is awaiting trial at court and has not been convicted of a criminal offence.
  • A prisoner on Judges Remand is someone who has been convicted of a criminal offence, but is awaiting sentencing. A prisoner on Judges Remand is normally treated in the same manner (visiting rights etc) as a convicted prisoner.
  • A convicted prisoner is someone who has been tried and found guilty of a criminal offence and has begun serving their sentence.

There may be differences for remand and convicted prisoners in the level of privileges they are entitled to within the prison system.

What is the Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme?

Through good behaviour and performance, prisoners can earn five main privileges.

These include: –

  • Access to private cash above a set minimum
  • Additional or improved visits
  • Eligibility to participate in enhanced earning schemes
  • Earned community visits (if Category D prisoner)
  • In-cell television (not all prisons).

There are three levels of privilege:


The basic level is a minimum standard of facilities to which someone is entitled to regardless of their behaviour and performance.


The standard level provides a higher level of privilege than someone would be entitled to at basic level.


Additional privileges at advanced level might be allowed depending on someone’s behaviour and performance.

What benefits or financial help might I be entitled to?

You might be able to get help with travel expenses to and from the prison if you are on benefit or low income and visiting a close relative or partner in prison.
For further information contact: –

The Assisted Prisons Visits Unit (APVU)
PO Box 2152

For more information, visit APVU at the HM Prison Service website
For all other benefits queries, you can contact the HARP help-line for information leaflets about benefits you might be entitled to.

For specialist benefits advice, please visit your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) or Benefits Agency. If you are unsure of your nearest CAB, please contact The National Association of Citizens’ Advice Bureaux who will be able to provide you with details.

There is a leaflet you can download the from the Dept of Work and Pensions Website which gives information benefits.

Can you put me in touch with any other organisations that support prisoners’ families?

  • Visit our Useful Organisations database listing both regional and national support services for families. This includes information about counselling services; help-lines; drug and alcohol support; bereavement; general advice giving services; housing and support for children.
  • Look at the information sheet Who can Help? or if you would like further information call the Helpline
  • It can feel very lonely when someone close to you is in prison. You may be finding it hard to cope. You may be experiencing lots of different emotions – hurt, anger, confusion, uncertainty; you may even be relieved. Remember that if you would just like to talk things through with someone who is non-judgemental and will listen.

Is there any provision for children visiting prison?

Many prisons have a play area or crèche available for children in the visitors’ centre or visits hall. Every prison is different; therefore it is useful to phone the Prison or Visitors’ Centre (if there is one) ahead of time to check.

Useful questions to ask when phoning the visitors’ centre

  • Can I bring the children?
  • How many children are allowed to visit?
  • Is there a play area in the visitors’ centre?
  • Is there a play area in the visits room?
  • Will the children be supervised on the visit?
  • What are the arrangements for babies?
  • Will the children be searched?
  • What refreshments are available?


  • Some prisons offer extended visits for children visiting prison. These visits enable children to spend time playing and talking with their parent in a relaxed play environment. Extended visits normally need to be booked through internal prison procedures by a prisoner.
  • Ormiston Children and Families Trust also produce leaflets for children and their parents talking about the different issues children face when someone close to them goes into prison. Quality copies can be ordered directly from Ormiston’s Central Office –

Ormiston Children and Families Trust
Central Office
333 Felixstowe Road

Leaflets are free of charge for family members, and are available as a photocopying pack to organisations for £6.00.

Leaflets available include:-

  • My Dad’s in Prison leaflet set
  • My Mum’s in Prison leaflet set

These packs contain: –

  • Promotional poster (included in photocopying pack)
  • Leaflet(s) for parents and carers – Visiting Prison with your child; What shall I tell the children?
  • My Special Book (for younger children)
  • What about me? (poster style sheet for older children and young people)

How can a family member complain about the treatment of a friend or relative who is in prison?

Before a family member complains about the treatment of a friend of relative who is in prison, the prisoner concerned will need to demonstrate they have tried to complain already using internal prison procedures.

Complaining inside the prison

If a prisoner has a complaint the Prison Service operates an official request/complaints procedure.

However, many complaints can be resolved swiftly and easily by someone raising them with a Personal Officer or Landing Officer without having to follow any formal procedure.

When a complaint cannot be resolved in this manner, it may need to be taken to a higher level in the Prison System. If someone wishes to make a formal complaint, they can ask for a special request/complaints form available from their Landing or Wing Officer. Once completed, this form will then be handed to the Governor or a Senior Staff Member and the prisoner should receive a response to their complaint within one week.

On occasions the complaint/ request might be refused. If this happens, a prisoner can appeal against this decision asking for an appeal form. The appeal form is filled in and sent to the Prison Casework Unit or the Prison Service Area Manager. A response to the complaint should be received within 6 weeks.

In some instances, a complaint might be of a nature that cannot be raised directly with Prison Staff. In these cases, the prisoner can contact the Governor, the Chairman of the Board of Visitors or the Area Manager directly. Contact is made using a sealed envelope and this is called ‘confidential access’.

If all the above channels are used and the outcome is unsuccessful for the person concerned, they can take their complaint to the Prison Ombudsmen and the Board of Visitors. Someone can find out further details of how to go about this from inside the prison.

It should be acknowledged that for specific complaints around issues of racial discrimination, every prison has a Race Relations Liaison Officer whom should be contacted.
Complaining outside the prison

Prisoners’ families can also take action on the outside if they feel their friend or relative is being treated unfairly.

They could take action in one of the following ways: –

Writing to the Governor of the prison or the Board of Visitors.

Writing to their local MP (Member of Parliament). MPs can help and advise on a range of issues including welfare matters and internal prison matters. Normally it is advisable to write to the MP whose constituency covers their home address but someone could write to the MP whose constituency covers the Prison.

Writing to a solicitor.

Writing to the Chief Officer of Police if there is evidence that a criminal offence has been committed.

Petitioning the Queen or Parliament. Petitions to Parliament need to be presented by an MP or Member of the House of Lords, and should be addressed to a named individual MP or peer.

Petitioning a Member of the European Parliament.

How do I know when my relative will be released from prison?


Within 24 hours of being sentenced, someone should be told their Automatic Release Date (ARD) and their Sentence Expiry Date (SED).

The ARD is the half-way point of the sentence and release from prison should occur unconditionally at this point.

The SED is the end point of the full sentence.

Example: For someone serving a sentence of 8 months, the ARD is at 4 months. The SED is at 8 months.

Once released from prison, for sentences under 12 months, the person should not be supervised by the Probation Service, however they will be ‘at risk’ until their SED. During the ‘at risk’ period, if the person commits a new offence they might have to return to prison to complete their sentence as well as getting a new sentence for the additional offence.

Following sentencing, someone should be told their Automatic Conditional Release Date (ACR) and their Sentence Expiry Date (SED).

The ACR is the half-way point of the sentence and release should occur automatically at this point.

The SED is the end point of the full sentence.

Once released from prison, for people serving sentences over 12 months but less than 4 years, the person will be on licence and supervised by the Probation Service. This supervision period occurs until the three-quarter point of their sentence.

The person will then be ‘at risk’ until their SED.

Example: For someone serving a 16 month sentence, release should occur at the ACR date at 8 months. They will then be under supervision (on licence) by the Probation Service until the three-quarter point of their sentence at 12 months. They will remain at risk until the SED at 16 months.

When someone is on licence, this means that certain conditions must be met. Examples of these conditions could include: – reporting to a probation officer at regular intervals; living at an approved address; counselling or specialist drug/alcohol treatment; agreeing not to contact a named people (eg: a victim of the crime).

Following sentencing, someone should be told their Discretionary Conditional Release date (DCR) (this used to be called ‘parole’) and their Sentence Expiry Date (SED).

The DCR is the half-way point of the sentence and someone becomes eligible for release. This does not happen conditionally and the Parole Board makes the decision.

The SED is the end point of the full sentence.

If the Parole Board decides that someone can be released, they are then released on licence and supervised by the Probation Service, until the three-quarter point of their sentence.

If the Parole Board decides not to release someone at this half-way point of their sentence, they will automatically be released at the two-thirds point of sentence and then will be on supervision licence until the three-quarter point of their sentence. When on licence, someone could be recalled to prison at anytime if they fail to keep the conditions of their licence or their behaviour raises cause for concern.

Sex offenders might be on licence until the end point of their sentence.

The final quarter of the sentence until the SED is spent ‘at risk’.

Example: For someone serving a 12-year sentence, the Parole Board can agree to release them at the DCR date, at the half-way point of the sentence (6 years).

If the Parole Board decides not to release them at this point, they will be automatically released at the two third point of the sentence (8 years).

Whether the Parole Board decides to release someone at the half-point or two-third point of their sentence, they are still on licence until the three-quarter point at 9 years. They will remain ‘at risk’ until the SED at 12 years.
What factors can affect the time spent in prison?

Days may be added to the time spent in custody if someone has broken prison rules. These additional days will set back someone’s release date from custody but will not affect the date when the full sentence ends (SED).

The time a prisoner spends on remand in prison may also count as part of the custodial sentence.

If someone is on Home Detention Curfew (HDC), the amount of time spent in custody will be reduced (see question on HDC).

My partner may be given Home Detention Curfew (tagging), what does this mean?

The tagging system allows electronic monitoring of a person’s whereabouts to occur. Someone is tagged by attaching a wrist or ankle band (looking like a large watch) to them. A monitoring unit is also placed in their home. This system enables the authorities to monitor someone’s location.

Prisoners eligible for this scheme are usually those serving sentences of between three months and four years. They may spend up to two months of their remaining custodial sentence in the community rather than in prison. This time is spent on licence and under curfew, which is enforced by electronic monitoring.

The actual curfew hours are normally about 12, but can be more but are usually never less than 9. This means that during this set time period, the person must not leave their home. If the Home Detention Curfew (HDC) conditions are breached, this can result in the release licence being revoked and someone may return to prison.

Not every prisoner is eligible for HDC (for example: prisoners who have committed offences of a violent or sexual nature; prisoners who are under 18 years of age).

Everyone has to have a satisfactory risk assessment before they are deemed suitable for HDC. It is also important that suitable accommodation is available for this time period. The Probation Service must approve all accommodation first.

The final decision to release someone on HDC will be taken by the prison Governor following risk assessment.

Normally, if someone is eligible for HDC the date of eligibility will be calculated at the same time as their Automatic Release Date (ARD) (prisoners serving sentences under 12 months) or Automatic Conditional Release Date (ACR) (prisoners serving sentences over 12 months but less than 4 years).
If someone gets Home Detention Curfew (HDC) they still have to serve a minimum amount of time in custody, depending on their sentence length (see table below).

When someone is released on HDC they are released on licence. Time spent on licence varies depending on the length of sentence received.

What help is available for a prisoner when they are released from prison?

NACRO (National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders) produce a range of leaflets providing support and information for someone who is coming out of prison. These include:-

  • Finding a Home
  • Finding a Job
  • Getting Benefits
  • Disclosing Criminal Convictions
  • Criminal Record Checks
  • Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974
  • Outside Help