Importance of Visiting People in Prison
In 2016, there were over 130,000 family visits to Irish Prisons.
Prison visits to loved ones are important to maintain a relationship with the person in prison, and it humanises the prison experience for the prisoner. It allows the prisoner to have a connection with the outside world which can be positive for the prisoner's mental health, and is beneficial for the prisoner and their family and friends on their release.
However, there may be reasons for people not to visit the prison, such as not having the time or resources to travel to the prison, or not wanting to see their loved ones in the prison environment.
Visiting a Prison - What to Expect
The Prison Rules 2007 s.35 gives provisions for visits to the prison. It provides that a sentenced prisoner 18 years old or over are allowed no less than one visit from relatives or friends a week, consisting of 30 minutes. A sentenced prisoner under the age of 18 years old is permitted to have no less than two visits from relatives or friends each week, not less than 30 minutes. Different rules apply for remand prisoners.
The Governor is allowed discretion to allow for additional or longer visits where circumstances permit. The Governor may also prohibit receiving visits for an individual, however the Governor must provide a reason on why the prohibition has been decided upon (Prison Rules (Amendment) 2013).
There are a range of prison visit types, such as contact visits, non-contact visits, family visits and professional visits. The visiting hours for family visits are available on the IPS website.
The practice in all prisons is not to allow more than 3 visitors per offender at a time. There is no limit on the number of children allowed for the visit, however in the interest of good order and safe and secure custody the number of visitors may be restricted.
The Prison Rules 2007, s.36 provides for the regulation of the visits. It provides that the prisoner and visitor are allowed to see and talk to one another but the visit may be screened with the use of glass or other type of screens. The majority of visits are supervised in sight, but not in hearing, of prison staff. The Governor may allow visitor contact if he or she is convinced that the contact will not facilitate the entry of contraband into the prison.
For matters of security, the Irish Prison Service only allow for visits to take place which have been booked in advance, and where the name, address, date of birth, name of prisoner being visited, and the relationship of prisoner and visitor is provided. The visitors must have photographic identification when visiting a prison, (current passport or driver’s license). All details are recorded in an electronic system.
Items that are not allowed into the prison are drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, weapons, unauthorised medicines, unauthorised money, mobile phones, cameras or recording devices. In order to prevent illegal and/or prohibited items from entering the prison, all visitors will be searched. This includes the visitors being patted down and walking through airport-style, x-ray security scanner and metal detectors. Drug detention dogs will also be present and will be walked up and down the visitor line. Mobile phones must be placed in the locker rooms before entering the prison.
Children Visiting a Prison
Anyone under the age of 18 years must usually must be accompanied by an adult. It can often be quite emotional for a child to visit a loved one in prison, due to the long waiting times presence of rigid security measures, the restrictive visiting areas which can create an uncomfortable experience for the child. It is beneficial to prepare the child on what to expect when visiting a prison.
However, there has been progress in relation to child-friendly visiting conditions, with a recent commitment having been made to ensuring that child-friendly visiting facilities are available across the estate by July 2018.
The Families Matter Too booklet provides suggestions on how to prepare a child for a prison visit.
Visiting times and requirements for visitors are given for each prison on the website of the Irish Prison Service here.
'Changing Ireland' and CASP (Clondalkin Addiction Support Programme) have produced a series of 11 short videos describing the visiting process for families.