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Rules of Prison Life in Britain

This guide explains what to expect if you get sent to a prison in the United Kingdom. Find further information on UK prison rules and regulations, and privilege rights of prisoners.

PRISON RULES UK: What happens when a prisoner arrives at a prison?

All prisoners get an interview and an assessment when they first arrive at a prison.

The interview ensures that the prisoner understands:

  • UK rules in prison, regulations, and procedures.
  • What privileges and prison rights they have.
  • How to get the right healthcare treatment in prison.
  • What courses may be available while imprisoned.

Every prisoner gets issued a prison number and their property gets recorded in a log. Personal items get stored somewhere safe at the detention center until they leave prison.

Prison Security Categories

Each prisoner is given a prison security category which gets based on:

  1. The risk of them trying to escape.
  2. The risk of them causing harm to other prisoners and staff.

Note: Any prisoner can get transferred to another jailhouse with a different security category at any time.

Jail Rules on Prisoner Privileges and Rights

Prisoner Privileges UK

Prisoner privileges are for prisoners who follow prison rules and regulations. The ‘Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme’ means a prisoner may:

  1. Receive more frequent visits from family members or friends.
  2. Be allowed to spend more of their money each week.

Note: Prison privileges vary between different prisons in the United Kingdom. The staff will explain how their particular scheme works.

Prisoner Rights UK

As a rule, all prisoners should be able to spend 30 minutes to one hour in the open air outside each day. Other rights of prisoners includes:

  • Receiving protection from racial harassment and bullying.
  • Being allowed to contact a solicitor.
  • Access to healthcare in prison (including support for a mental health condition).
Prisoner Punishment

As a rule, prisoners who break prison rules and regulations get punished.

Punishment inside a jail can mean:

  • Being kept in the cell for up to 21 days.
  • Being given up to 42 days extra inside prison on top of an original sentence.
  • A removal of certain privileges (e.g. taking away a TV from the cell).
Prison Rules and Regulations in the United Kingdom

Healthcare in Prisons UK

Prisoners receive the same healthcare and treatment as anyone living outside of prison. The treatment is free but it must get approved by a prison doctor or by a member of the healthcare team.

Even though prisons in the United Kingdom do not have hospitals, many have medical equipment and in-patient beds. Most medical problems get dealt with by the healthcare team based at the lockup. In extreme cases the staff may also:

  • Get a medical expert to visit the prisoner while doing time.
  • Arrange for healthcare treatment in an external hospital.

Note: A healthcare team can ask to see a prisoner’s family doctor medical records. But, they can only do this if the prisoner agrees to it.

Specialist Help and Support

In some cases, prisoners can get specialist support such as if they have:

  • A problem with drugs or alcohol.
  • HIV or AIDS
  • A disability or have a learning difficulty.

Important: The government announced new plans for tackling the use of illegal drugs behind bars. As a result, prison drug dogs are being used sniff out various strands of Spice.

Refusing Medical Treatment in Prison

Prison rules and regulations mean prisoners can refuse medical treatment. But, the healthcare team can choose to provide medical treatment in cases where the prisoner is incapable of making decisions themselves.

As a rule, the healthcare team will discuss the matter with the prisoner’s family first. An example would be where the convict has a mental health condition.

Prison Life in the UK for Vulnerable Prisoners

Prison staff receive training to identify vulnerable prisoners. In particular, they will spot those who are at risk of bullying, self-harm, and suicide.

In some cases the prisoner can get their own case manager to ensure that they:

  • Can discuss their mental health and any feelings about depression.
  • Get regular support during their life in prison from a health specialist.

Many prisons have ‘listener schemes‘. These offer confidential emotional support for people who are finding prison life in the UK difficult. Often, listener scheme support comes from fellow prisoners and other inmates.

Psychiatric Hospitals

A prisoner can get transferred to a secure psychiatric hospital for the sake of their own safety. But, this only happens when they meet certain conditions under the Mental Health Act 1983.

Note: Prisoners get returned to their original prison when their condition improves.

Are Concerned about a Prisoner?

In cases where you have concerns or feel worried about a prisoner:

  1. Inform a member of the prison staff when you make a visit.
  2. Contact the ‘Safer Custody Team‘ at the prison.

Note: Some prisons run confidential Safer Custody hotlines. That means you can leave a message explaining your concerns.

Pregnancy and Childcare Inside Prisons

Women who give birth inside a prison can keep their baby for the first 18 months. They will both spend some prison life in a mother and baby unit.

If you are a prisoner with a child under 18 months old, you can apply to bring your child to prison with you.

Social Services arrange for children who are over 18 months old to get cared for. In most cases it will be by the prisoner’s parents, or by fostering services.

Applying for Places in Prison Mother and Baby Units
  1. A prisoner can apply for a space in a mother and baby unit when they enter prison.
  2. An admissions board decide whether it is the best option for the child.
  3. You may get offered a place in another unit if there are no places in the prison the mother first goes to.
  4. Arrangements must be made for childcare outside the jail if there are no spaces in any unit.
  5. Mothers can appeal if they are refused a place (the prison explains how).
  6. Separation plans occur when the mother enters prison if the child will reach 18 months before her sentence is over.

Note: Arrangements are normally made for the child to be cared for outside of prison for prisoners with sentences of 18 months or over.

List of Prisons with Mother and Baby Units

You can search online to find a prison or prisoner but these prisons have mother and baby units:

  • Askham Grange
  • Bronzefield
  • Eastwood Park
  • New Hall
  • Peterborough
  • Styal

Temporary Release for Pregnant Prisoners

Many pregnant women in prison do not pose a high risk of harm to the general public. Hence, some will be released from custody ‘temporarily’ to protect them and their unborn children from coronavirus.

The same temporary release applies to prisoners and their children in Mother and Baby Units – providing they meeting the same risk assessment.

Once they pass a risk assessment, prison governors can grant their release on temporary licence. Part of the process also involves finding suitable accommodation for the women.

Work in Prison Education

Most prisons offer courses to help prisoners learn new skills. Examples include using computers, learning to read and write, and how to do basic maths.

You might also have an opportunity to learn engineering, woodworking, or gardening. The prison ‘Individual Learning Plan‘ lists the courses and training available.

Skills and Qualifications

Generally, the courses lead to qualifications recognised by employers outside prison. Examples include GCSEs or NVQs. In some cases life in prison may also include a distance learning course such as Open University.

Working in Prison UK

Most prisoners can work in prison while they carry out their sentence. They can a chance to work in electrical engineering or make clothes and basic furniture.

These tasks are part of prison workshops and, as a rule, prisoners get paid for this type of work. In some cases, working in prison can include jobs at the detention center (e.g. in laundries and kitchens).

Note: UK prison rules and regulations allow a ‘low-risk‘ prisoner to work among, and join, general community activities.

Prison Life in the UK: Outline of Jail Rules and Regulations in the United Kingdom