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Information for prisoners and their families

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 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’.

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 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 visitors

Financial help is available from the Assisted Prison Visits Unit (APVU) to allow close relatives and partners in the UK to visit prisoners. The APVU scheme covers visits to all convicted, remand prisoners, civil prisoners and people held in prison under the 1971 Immigration Act. A close relative is defined as a husband, wife, civil partner, parent, brother, sister or child. This includes adoptive and step brothers, sisters, parents and children, and half-brothers and half-sisters. It does not include parents-in-law, brothers-in-law or sisters-in-law. Claims as an unmarried ‘partner’ will only be allowed where the relationship meets certain requirements of proof, for example, documentary evidence of having lived together for at least four months. This includes lesbian and gay partners who are not in a civil partnership.

If you are the prisoner’s sole visitor, the costs of your visit may be allowed, whatever the relationship.

To qualify for financial help from the APVU for visiting a prisoner you must also be:-

  • receiving income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance 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
  • 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 for details of how to claim.

The address of the APVU is:-

The Assisted Prison Visits Unit
PO Box 2152
B15 1SD
Tel: 0300 063 2100 (Monday to Friday from 9.00am to 5.00pm)
Textphone: 0845 304 0800

What can be claimed

You can obtain help from the APVU for a visit as soon as someone is imprisoned. It will pay for an assisted visit every 14 days. 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 the following expenses:-

  • travel by public transport. Taxi fares will only be allowed if there is no public transport and no transport provided by the prison, or if taxi fares would be cheaper than public transport, or if there is a medical reason
  • travel by private car or motorbike, if this can be justified, for example, if there is no suitable public transport, or if you have a number of small children
  • if the journey cannot be completed in a day, you can claim for the cost of bed and breakfast. You may need evidence from the prison that an overnight stay is necessary
  • meals, if you are going to be away from home for more than five hours
  • all 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, you can apply for the same expenses as the parent would be entitled to
  • if the children have to be looked after at home while the visit is made, the costs of any child care can be paid.

How to claim

Your claim should normally be made once every four weeks in advance of the visit. You can claim for two visits at the same time. You should make the first claim on Form F2022, which should be available from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or the APVU by ringing 0121 626 2206. You should return the form 14 days before the visit to the APVU.

If your visit has already taken place, you may still make a claim for the costs, provided that you meet all the conditions and the claim is made within four weeks of your visit.

How it is paid

The cost of fares will usually be covered by a travel warrant. This will be made out in your name, and will expire on the same day as the VO unless an overnight stay in the middle of the journey is necessary. The cost of food, meals and petrol will be paid by girocheque. If you have borrowed the money to pay your travel costs, the claim should still be made by you, but the giro can be made out to the person from whom you borrowed the money. Only in exceptional circumstances will you be paid by cash, for example, if payment is very late.


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 can be found on its website at

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 be passed on to the prison staff.

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 fact sheet about making a complaint to the SPSO on the SPSO website at

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 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.

Families Outside

13 Great King Street
Tel: 0131 557 9800 (for professionals requiring information and back up)
Freephone helpline: 0500 839383
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. 

HOPE (Helping Offenders Prisoners and their Families)

18 Stevenson Street
Glasgow G40 2ST
Tel: 0141 552 0229

310 Peat Road
Glasgow G53 6FA
Tel: 0141 876 1846

Hope offers support to prisoners and their families by providing advice and information. It specialises in employment advice. In addition there are a number of projects being run, for example, volunteer prison visitors who visit vulnerable prisoners, training in basic IT, jobseeking skills and adult literacy and numeracy for ex-prisoners and their families. There are also women's support groups for wives, mothers and partners of prisoners.

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

16 Mortimer Street
London W1T 3JL
Tel: 020 7436 3304
Fax: 020 7436 3302

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)

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.

For more information, see Help with immigration problems.

Miscarriage of Justice Organisation (MOJO)

54 Carlton Place
G5 9TW
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 and click on 'prisons'.