Information for prisoners and their families
This information applies to Scotland only.
Coronavirus - early release, and new rules in the prison and about contacting friends and family
From 4 May 2020, some people can be released early from prison. This is to reduce the pressure on prisons caused by coronavirus.
You can be released early if you:
- were sentenced to 18 months or less
- had 90 days or less left to serve in custody on 4 May 2020, and
- weren’t convicted of certain types of offences such as sexual offences, terrorism offences, domestic abuse or a coronavirus related offence.
If you have coronavirus, you won’t be released early. You’ll have to wait until you get better or until you reach the end of your sentence, whichever happens first.
Prison governors can stop someone being released early if they think there’s a risk of harm to someone in the community. Read more about coronavirus and prisons in Scotland.
Changes to rules in the prison
Under an emergency law, governors of all prisons and young offenders institutions can make changes to the rules about:
- supplies of food, drink, books, newspapers
- recreation and exercise.
There might be restrictions of fresh clothing, showering and other personal services. The timescales for disciplinary action and complaints procedures might be changed. These changes will only be put in place if there are staff shortages.
The Scottish Prison Service has stopped visits to prisons.
If you need legal help it should be possible to have a private consultation with a solicitor using digital options.
Some prisoners on remand might be released temporarily. You need to contact the prison to find out what is happening to remand prisoners.
Contact with family and friends
As there is no actual visiting permitted to prisoners the Scottish Prison Service has developed some services to assist with keeping prisoners in touch with family and friends. These include a dedicated helpline, virtual visits and new rules about phones. A prison governor can restrict contact from the prisoner if asked. A virtual visit can be supervised by a prison officer. There is more information on the Scottish Prison Service website.
Going into prison or leaving prison: practical arrangements
When you go into prison or leave prison, both you and your family will have to make arrangements about a range of practical concerns, including:
- relationship with your partner
- social security benefits
- money and debts
- possessions and property.
You will need specialist advice about these issues. There are a number of specialist organisations which can give advice about these matters. For details of organisations that can help, see under heading Useful organisations.
If you want further information about the legal situation, for example whether you can appeal against the prison sentence, you should consult a solicitor. You should usually consult the solicitor who represented you before you went into prison. All prisoners are allowed access to their legal advisers at 'any reasonable time'.
How to arrange a visit
The rules about visiting someone in prison vary according to whether you are:
- an untried prisoner awaiting trial, or
- a convicted prisoner whose case has been decided.
As an untried prisoner you are normally allowed one 30 minute visit every week day. Arrangements for visits vary between prisons and the visitor should check in advance what the rules are.
As a convicted prisoner you are normally allowed one 30 minute visit each week or one two hour visit every 28 days. You will be given information when you arrive at the prison about how to organise a visit. In most cases the prisoner will have to complete a form saying who the visitor will be and the visitor will be sent a pass which they must bring with them to the prison.
These are basic minimum rules for how many visits you can have but some prisons will also allow longer or more frequent visits. If you are a long way from your family and friends, you may be able to save up visits. Special arrangements can be made if you are seriously ill or if there is an urgent domestic crisis in your family.
The governor can refuse permission for someone to visit you if they think it is necessary, for example, for the prevention of crime. If you think that a prison visit has been refused unfairly, you can make a complaint.
Individual prisons will be able to advise about the rules which apply to them. Specialist organisations may also be able to give advice about visits, see under heading Useful organisations.
If you would like visits but do not usually get them the prison chaplain or social worker may be able to arrange for a volunteer prison visitor to visit you.
Taking things in to the prison
There are strict rules on gifts that can be given to you and your visitor should check with the prison what s/he can take to the prison before the visit.
Financial help for prison visits
Financial help is available from the Assisted Prison Visits Unit (APVU) to allow close relatives and partners of prisoners in the UK, who are on a low income, to visit them in prison. The APVU scheme covers visits to all convicted, remand prisoners, civil prisoners and people held in prison under the 1971 Immigration Act. This includes Young Offenders Institutions.
The scheme covers all prisons in Scotland, Wales and England. Visitors living in England, Wales or Scotland can also apply to visit a prisoner in Northern Ireland, Guernsey or Jersey, although special rules may apply. A different scheme operates for visitors who are residents of Northern Ireland.
For more information, a guide to applying for financial assistance for prison visits if you are on a low income is on the GOV.UK website.
You can apply for financial assistance if you are over 16 when visiting a prison in Scotland (18 in England) and you are one of the following relationships to the prisoner:
- husband, wife or civil partner
- parent or grandparent
- brother, sister (including adoptive, step or half)
- son or daughter (including step or adoptive)
- next of kin (as noted by the prisoner in prison records)
- unmarried partner where they were living as a couple before the prisoner went into prison. This includes lesbian and gay partners who are not in a civil partnership
- prisoner’s sole visitor in the four weeks before a visit is claimed, whatever the relationship
- escort to a qualifying adult or child.
It does not include parents-in-law, brothers-in-law or sisters-in-law. Children should be included in a claim made by another qualifying person.
To qualify for financial help from the APVU for visiting a prisoner you must also be:
- receiving income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Universal Credit or Pension Credit, or
- receiving Child Tax Credit and/or Working Tax Credit with a disability element, and have income below a certain amount. You should check with the APVU to find out the current year's income figure. or
- in receipt of a Department of Health certificate (HC2 or HC3)
If you are on a low income, but you are not covered by the list above, you may still be able to get financial help, but you will need to see a specialist adviser.
What can be claimed
You can obtain help from the APVU for a visit as soon as someone is imprisoned. You can claim for one visit every 14 days. The maximum number of visits in any 12 month period is 26. If the prison governor agrees it is necessary, it may also be possible to get financial help with the cost of extra visits, for example, if the prisoner is seriously ill.
You can claim up to 28 days before or after the visit took place. It is important to keep any receipts for travel, food or lodgings as evidence of your costs. You must also keep a completed Confirmation of Visit form, which will be completed at the prison when you visit. This form is available on the GOV.UK website at www.gov.uk.
You can claim the following expenses:
- travel - you will be paid the amount of the cheapest method of public transport available for the journey you are making or for petrol per mile at a fixed rate
- if the journey cannot be completed in a day, you could qualify for the cost of bed and breakfast. You should seek approval from the Assisted Prison Visits Units before incurring these expenses. You may need evidence from the prison that an overnight stay is necessary
- light refreshments, if you are going to be away from home for more than five hours
- costs of taking dependent children including travel, meals and overnight accommodation, where necessary. If you are taking a prisoner’s child on a visit and you are not the parent of the child (i.e. an escort), you can apply for the same expenses as the parent would be entitled to.
How to claim
The claim can be made online at www.gov.uk. You can also contact the Assisted Prison Visits Unit by email, phone or post to request an application form.
You should apply by post if you are the parent of a child and wish for another person to escort the child to the prison for visits. For information on what to include in your application, see www.gov.uk.
Assisted Prison Visits Unit
PO Box 2152
Telephone: 0300 063 2100 Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm (call charges apply)
You can claim for visits you will make in the next 28 days or visits you have made in the last 28 days. You should try to claim as soon as possible.
How it is paid
Payment is made into your bank account or by a payment voucher which you exchange at a Post Office. If you are claiming in advance, train tickets can be sent to you before the visit.
If your claim was refused or you feel that it was wrongly assessed, you can appeal.
If you wish to appeal against a refused claim, you should consult a specialist adviser.
Letters, emails and telephone calls
You are allowed to send out and receive as many letters as you wish. Letters may be opened and read if the prison officer suspects that the letter relates to criminal activity or if it is in the interests of security, even if the letter is being sent to your solicitor or a court.
You can buy cardphones for use on prison phones. Each prison will have different rules about how the phones can be used and there will be restrictions on the times that you can make phone calls. All telephone calls are recorded and may be monitored by prison staff.
If you are having a problem with letters or phone calls, you should consult an experienced adviser. For details of organisations that may be able to advise, see under heading Useful organisations.
You don’t have any rights to send or receive emails in prison. Some prisons operate the Email a Prisoner service, which enables friends and family to send you emails, which will be printed off and delivered to you by prison staff. More information about the Email a Prisoner Service is on its website.
If you've been sentenced to 12 months or less in prison, you can vote in Scottish Parliament and Scottish local elections. This includes if you've been given two sentences of less than 12 months that run at the same time.
Alexa was given a six-month sentence and a seven-month sentence, to run at the same time. This is counted as a total of seven months, so she can vote in Scottish Parliament and Scottish local elections.
Barry was given a six-month sentence and a seven-month sentence, to run one after the other. This is counted as a total of 13 months, so he can't vote in Scottish Parliament or Scottish local elections.
There are two ways to vote from prison. You can:
- apply to vote by post
- appoint someone to vote for you - this person is called your proxy.
You can't vote in person at a polling place from prison.
If you're in prison you can't vote in UK general elections.
Complaints about treatment in prison
Complaints about medical treatment
The NHS assumed responsibility for providing prison healthcare on 1 November 2011. This includes medical, mental health, nursing, dental and ophthalmic services. Complaints about medical treatment in prison from 1 November 2011 are dealt with by the NHS complaints procedure.
Until 1 November 2011 primary healthcare services in Scottish prisons were the responsibility of the Scottish Prison Service (SPS). Complaints about medical treatment in prison before 1 November 2011 are dealt with by the Scottish Prison Service. If the internal SPS complaints procedure does not settle the issue, it can be taken to the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice.
Independent prison monitors
Independent prison monitors are a group of lay people who:
- act as a 'watchdog' to make sure the prison is properly run
- hear and investigate any applications or complaints from prisoners
- inspect from time to time the prison, food, and the way the prison is run, and make recommendations for any changes that they think are appropriate.
A prisoner can ask to speak to an independent prison monitor at any time. There is a freephone number in prison, or a request form can be handed in. You do not need to give a reason for asking to see an independent prison monitor. You only have to tell the independent prison monitor your name and your prison location. You do not have the right to see an independent prison monitor within a given time period. The interview with the independent prison monitor will take place out of the sight and hearing of prison officers if both you and the independent prison monitor want this. Information given to an independent prison monitor may only be passed on to the prison staff with the express consent of the prisoner. A full explanation of what the independent prison monitoring service provides is on the website of HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland.
Depending on the nature of the complaint, you should first consider using the prison’s internal complaints procedure. If your complaint is of a sensitive nature you could complain to someone outside the prison for example your MSP. If you are not happy with the response you get to your complaint, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) can consider complaints about most aspects of a prisoner’s treatment in prison. There is a leaflet about making a complaint to the SPSO on it's website.
For more information about making a complaint to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, see How to use an ombudsman or commissioner in Scotland.
If you are complaining about race discrimination you can make your complaint to the Race Relations Manager in the prison or use the prison’s complaints procedure.
If you need more information about how to complain you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.
Citizens Advice Bureaux
All Citizens Advice Bureaux can give information and advice about the issues facing prisoners and their families. They all hold detailed information about prisoners’ rights and will know who to refer to if they are not able to help. The address and telephone number of the local Citizens Advice Bureau can be found in the telephone directory.
13 Great King Street
Tel: 0131 557 9800 (for professionals requiring information and back up)
Freephone helpline: 0800 254 0088
Email: email@example.com (helpline enquiries)
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (general enquiries)
Families Outside is a Scottish charity which runs a free, confidential helpline for friends and families affected by imprisonment in Scotland. It provides information on all Scottish prisons, claiming travel expenses for prison visits, visiting and what to take to the prison, housing and benefit issues, and other concerns families may have. It also provides general support and a listening ear for anyone who needs to talk.
SACRO - Safeguarding Communities, Reducing Offending
Sacro provides a range of Criminal Justice, Youth Justice and Mediation services. All Sacro services exist to promote safe and cohesive communities by reducing conflict and offending.
Criminal Justice services work mainly with offenders and their families to support and assist them in addressing the issues which cause, or may cause them to offend. Support is also offered to assist people with reintegration.
Youth Justice services are based on restorative principles, which offer support to those affected by and those responsible for harm. The aim of services using restorative principles is to address behaviour in a way which empowers the people harmed, those responsible and the wider community members in order to resolve issues in a constructive way.
Mediators act with the invitation of those involved in a conflict to help them build agreement and/or improve understanding. Community Mediation services work with neighbours and neighbourhoods to help resolve local disputes.
Society of Vincent De Paul
546 Sauchiehall Street
Glasgow G2 3NG
Tel: 0141 332 7752
Fax: 0141 332 6775
The aim of this organisation is to alleviate all types of poverty experienced by prisoners and their families. Much of the support is offered by home visits to prisoners’ families, in particular, single parents, housebound and older people.
Family Holiday Association
This association will provide grants for families, including those with a member in prison, so that they may have a holiday. In general, grants will only be paid to families which have not had a holiday for four years. There is a choice in the type of holiday for which help can be provided, including a visit to relatives. Grants vary according to the size of the family, and their financial situation. All applications have to be referred by a social worker, welfare agency or voluntary organisation.
Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI)
JCWI offers help, information and advice to prisoners who are experiencing immigration law problems including the threat of deportation.
Miscarriage of Justice Organisation (MOJO)
54 Carlton Place
Tel: 0141 418 0152
Email: Contact form available on the website
MOJO provides free and impartial expert advice to individuals who are suffering because of a miscarriage of justice.
Scottish Prison Service
The Scottish Prison Service website has information about prison locations, travel directions for visitors and visiting times. Visit the homepage at www.sps.gov.uk and click on 'prisons'.