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Can Ex-Prisoners Visit Prisons in the UK?

For most people, the idea of voluntarily returning to prison after serving one’s sentence seems unappealing. However, some ex-prisoners request to visit either their former prison or others. What are the rules and procedures around ex-prisoner visits to jails in the UK? This article examines the policies of Her Majesty’s Prison Service (HMPS) and individual prisons regarding such visits. It also explores the reasons why some choose to return despite prison’s painful memories.

Why Would Ex-Prisoners Want to Visit Prisons?

While most former inmates are eager to put prison behind them, others request to visit for various personal reasons:

  • Closure: Some hope returning will help process traumatic memories and gain closure on that chapter of life.
  • Maintain connections: Inmates may have formed close friendships inside which they seek to preserve through visits.
  • Support others: Ex-prisoners often provide guidance to new inmates struggling to adapt to prison life and rules.
  • Personal development: For some, speaking about their past helps reflect on the journey since incarceration.
  • Give back: Individuals may volunteer with charities that organize special prison visits to speak about changing one’s life.
  • Curiosity: A few simply wish to see how old prisons have changed since their time served.

Official Visitation Rules for Ex-Prisoners in the UK

Standard social visitation policies govern how ex-prisoners can visit correctional facilities in the UK. The key requirements as of 2023 are:

  • Visitors must complete an application form disclosing criminal record.
  • Prisons conduct security assessments for all visitors, including ex-inmates.
  • Ex-offenders are barred from visiting their former prison for usually 6-12 months after release.
  • After this period, ex-prisoners may be approved to visit former or other prisons as social visitors of current inmates.
  • Visits depend on visitor’s conduct in prison and risk factors like offences committed.
  • Priority goes to current inmates’ family, friends, attorneys etc. Ex-inmate visits are accommodated only as scheduling permits.
  • Most visits take place in closed, non-contact booths supervised by officers.
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Prison authorities emphasize visits are a privilege, not a right. Overall, most UK prisons do allow ex-prisoner visits on a case-by-case basis under standard visitation rules, but with more scrutiny. Much depends on an individual’s history and behavior while incarcerated.

Security Risks and Considerations Regarding Ex-Prisoner Visits

Prison management emphasize visits must not undermine security and discipline. As past inmates familiar with the system, ex-prisoners potentially pose unique risks, including:

  • Smuggling contraband like drugs or weapons
  • Sharing insider knowledge of operations to inmates
  • Violent or disruptive behavior due to familiarity with the environment
  • Gang-related activity or communications

To mitigate such risks, prisons thoroughly vet visiting applications from ex-inmates. In-person visits may be denied in favor of non-contact options. Ex-prisoners deemed higher risk face stricter limitations, for example:

  • Only allowed highly supervised closed visits
  • Visits restricted to specific inmates
  • Temporarily banned from visiting soon after release
  • Permanently banned for serious violations while incarcerated

Special Visits by Former Prisoners

In some circumstances, prisons permit more organized visits by ex-offenders under supervision, for example:

  • Visits to share reform stories: Some prisons work with charities and rehabilitation programs to allow ex-prisoners to speak to inmates about changing their lives. These special visits require extensive pre-approval.
  • School/youth program visits: As part of “scared straight” programs, select former inmates may share cautionary tales with at-risk youth tours under close supervision.
  • Media visits: With special permission, former prisoners occasionally participate in media interviews or documentaries filmed inside prisons.
  • Legal/Official visits: In rare cases, ex-consults with current inmates at the request of attorneys or government officials.

While regular social visits by ex-prisoners are controlled for security, such specially approved visits allow former inmates to share messages of reform and consequences under strict supervision.

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Perspectives on Allowing Ex-Prisoner Visits

Ex-prisoner visitation policies often generate debate between two opposing viewpoints:

Supportive Perspectives

  • Ex-inmates who demonstrate model behavior should be allowed to maintain ties like law-abiding citizens. Prison still affects them.
  • Supervised visits help ex-prisoners gain closure and show the positive paths possible after release.
  • Through special visits and programs, ex-cons can positively mentor inmates seeking rehabilitation.
  • Visitation maintains bonds between inmates and ex-prisoners now contributing to society.
  • Denying visits further stigmatizes the formerly incarcerated by implying permanent untrustworthiness.

Critical Perspectives

  • Fraternization between current and ex-inmates risks transfer of contraband, operational information etc.
  • Even model ex-prisoners may harbor resentment once inside and encourage misconduct.
  • Visit resources are better utilized for current inmates’ loved ones, attorneys, counselors etc.
  • Ex-inmate visits may upset victims, families, and officers who suffered from their crimes.
  • Giving ex-cons access could undermine perceptions of prison as secure and punishing.

Given these complex considerations, comprehensive visitor screenings aim to balance risks and potential benefits case-by-case. Victims are also notified when relevant. Absolute prohibitions are rare given most ex-prisoners’ desire to move on constructively.


While most former prisoners are happy to leave jail behind forever, some request returning to visit at a later date for personal reasons. These visits are neither a right nor guaranteed, but UK prisons consider applications from ex-inmates on an individual basis. Assuming prisons were left in reasonable condition, visits are not automatically denied but do undergo extensive security review. Ex-prisoner access involves balancing control, safety, rehabilitation, and humanity. For better or worse, the formerly incarcerated remain affected by their institutional memories.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are most ex-prisoners banned for years from visiting any UK prisons after release?

No, outright visitation bans lasting years after release are not very common in the UK. Standard policy bars ex-prisoners from their former institution for 6-12 months only. After this period, most can apply to visit their old or other prisons, subject to security checks. However, recent releases deemed high-risk may face longer or permanent bans. Much depends on visitor screening rather than blanket prohibitions.

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Can ex-prisoners become prison officers in the UK criminal justice system?

Yes, it is possible for ex-offenders to become prison officers, though the process can be challenging. Candidates must demonstrate completed rehabilitation. Minor offenses may be overlooked, but convictions for serious violence generally preclude employment. Former inmates who became officers report scrutiny but say their background helps build rapport with prisoners. Some see the role as atonement.

Are most UK prisons for-profit private prisons today?

No, the vast majority of prisons in the UK remain public institutions run by Her Majesty’s Prison Service. As of 2022, just 11 out of 118 prisons in England and Wales were privately managed under government contract. Private facilities primarily handle low-risk prisoners. Debate continues over cost-effectiveness and quality compared to public prisons. Scotland, Northern Ireland and youth jails have no private prisons.

Can imprisoned parents in the UK visit with their children?

Yes, most prisons in the UK now offer periodic supervised family visits allowing inmates to visit with their children and partners. Priority is given to maintaining prisoners’ family ties, especially with minor children. Visits typically take place in supervised indoor halls for 2-3 hours. Some family days also permit outdoor visits. Restrictions still apply for high-risk prisoners. Maintaining visitation is seen as benefiting rehabilitation.

Are most prisoners entitled to conjugal visits with partners in UK prisons?

No, conjugal visits allowing intimate contact between inmates and partners are not permitted in prisons across the UK. Unmarried inmates are also generally not allowed physical contact with partners during regular visits. A few top-security prisons operated “private family visits” historically but ceased the practice. Critics argued conjugals were inappropriate privileges. Physical relationships are prohibited to maintain order and discipline.

Prison Inside Team

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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