In 2016, there were over 130,000 family visits to Irish Prisons.
Prison visits are important to maintain relationships, support the prisoner's mental wellbeing, and humanise the prison experience for the prisoner. Stable family relationships and community ties have also been recognised as important factors in effective resettlement and reducing offending.
The Prison Rules 2007 s.35 gives provisions for visits to prisons in Ireland. It outlines that a sentenced prisoner 18 years old or over are allowed a minimum of one 30 minute visit from relatives or friends a week. A sentenced prisoner under the age of 18 years old is permitted to have a minimum of two 30 minute visits from relatives or friends each week. Different rules apply for remand prisoners.
The Governor has the 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 types of screens. The majority of visits are supervised in sight, but not in hearing. 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.
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.