Information for prisoners and their families

This advice applies to Scotland. See advice for See advice for England, See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Wales

This information applies to Scotland only.

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:

  • housing

  • children

  • relationship with your partner

  • social security benefits

  • employment

  • 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 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'.

Prison visits

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 2-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 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 they 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 4 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. Confirmation of Visit form is available on the GOV.UK website.

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 on the GOV.UK website. 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. Find information on what to include in your application on the GOV.UK website.

Help with Prison Visits

PO Box 17594


B2 2QP

Helpline: 0300 063 2100 (Monday to Friday from 9.00am to 5.00pm)



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 phone 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.

Landline phones are being fitted in cells in all Scottish prisons. There are also communal phones. Calls can only be made to numbers on a pre-approved list. Prison staff can monitor and record calls.

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 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.


Example 1

Alexa was given a 6-month sentence and a 7-month sentence, to run at the same time. This is counted as a total of 7 months, so she can vote in Scottish Parliament and Scottish local elections.


Example 2

Barry was given a 6-month sentence and a 7-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 HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland website.

Other complaints

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.

Useful organisations

Citizens Advice Bureau

Your local bureau might hold information and advice about the issues facing prisoners and their families and will know who to refer to if they are not able to help. Find out how to contact your local bureau and get advice.

Families Outside

13 Great King Street



Tel: 0131 557 9800 (for professionals requiring information and back up)

Freephone helpline: 0800 254 0088

Email: (helpline enquiries)

Email: (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

29 Albany Street

Edinburgh EH1 3QN

Tel: 0131 624 7270

Fax: 0131 624 7269



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

3 Gainsford Street



Tel: 020 3117 0650



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 4 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)

115 Old Street



Advice line: 020 7251 8706 (Tuesday and Thursday 2 – 5pm)

Tel: 020 7251 8708

Fax: 020 7251 8707



JCWI offers help, information and advice to prisoners who are experiencing immigration law problems including the threat of deportation.

More about immigration

Miscarriage of Justice Organisation (MOJO)

Miscarriages of Justice Organisation Scotland (MOJO)

121-127 Saltmarket


G1 5LF

Tel: 0141 552 0009


Website: contact form


MOJO provides free and impartial expert advice to individuals who are suffering because of a miscarriage of justice.

Scottish Prison Service

There is information about prison locations, travel directions for visitors and visiting times on the Scottish Prison Service website.