This article was written by Michelle Makela - Legal Practice Director

Michelle has over 15 years experience in the legal industry, working across commercial litigation, criminal law, family law and estate planning.  Michelle has been involved in all practice areas of the firm and in her personal practice has had experience in litigation at all levels (state and federal industrial tribunals, the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, the Federal Court, Federal...

Visiting Someone In Jail


When someone is sent to jail, it can be very difficult for friends or family members. One thing that often causes stress and difficulty is learning to negotiate the jail system. If you know someone who has been sent to a correctional centre you will no doubt have many questions about how that system works, how you can contact the person and what you can do to best support them through this time. You may also want to know how to go about visiting someone in jail.

Locating the prisoner

Unless you have had direct contact with the person since they have been in jail, you probably won’t know which correctional facility they are in. To find out which prison a person has been sent to, you need to know the person’s Master Index Number (MIN). If you don’t know their MIN you need their full name and date of birth.

To find out a prisoner’s location, contact Corrective Services New South Wales. 

Who can Visit?

Once you have located the person, you may want to book a visit with them. There are no restrictions on who can visit an inmate. Up to four adults can visit at one time. Some prisons require visitors to be on the prisoner’s visitors list before they can attend for a visit. Check with the prison you are planning to visit if this is the case.

How do I Arrange to visit someone in jail ?

Contact the jail to book a visit day and time. This can be done by letter or phone and will ensure that they will be ready and available when you visit. It is a good idea to call Sentence Administration before you leave. Inmates can be moved at very short notice, so it is a good idea to call and check that the inmate is still in the same correctional centre and that that centre is not in lockdown as soon as possible before you leave to avoid the disappointment of not being able to visit.

Arrive early. Correctional centres are often located in remote areas so factoring in travel time is important. You may be required to wait until the visit can be facilitated so leave yourself plenty of time.

On your first visit, you will be given your own Visitor Identification Number (VIN). This is the number that you will use on each visit to identify yourself.

What to Take When Visiting Someone In Jail

You can take the following items to a prison visit.

Identification

You will need to take some form of identification (eg: driver licence, passport) with you each time that you visit an inmate.

Money

Each inmate has an account where they can keep up to $100 for the purchase of things like toiletries, additional food, clothing, personal items and telephone calls. Using your VIN you can deposit money into an inmate’s account. You can also post-money between visits using a money order from a post office.

Things to show

While visiting you are not allowed to give anything to an inmate, but you can take things like photographs and children’s artworks to show them while you are there.

Things to give

Some jails will allow you to leave items such as socks and underwear for an inmate when you visit. Usually, these are given to jail staff and handed on to the inmate later on. You will need to check if this is allowed by the individual centre  before bringing gifts.

What not to take when visiting someone in jail

You should avoid taking any of the following items to a prison visit.

Clothing with metal

On your way into the correctional centre you will be required to pass through a metal detector. It is worth thinking carefully about the clothes that you wear to the visit to ensure that you are not held up, or holding up others by triggering the metal detector.

Drugs

If you have medication that you have to have on you at all times, then you can bring that with you into jail. However, it needs to be in its original packaging with your name on it and it is a good idea to bring your prescription along as well. Once in the jail you will need to give these things to staff to take care of while you visit.

You need to ensure that you have no illicit drugs on your person or in your car when you visit. Sniffer dogs are often used at correctional centres to ensure that drugs are not being conveyed to inmates by visitors. Being found with drugs on your person or in your car will result in very serious consequences, including criminal charges and bans from visiting an inmate.

The offence of bringing, or attempting to bring drugs into a correctional centre carries a maximum penalty of 2 years in prison and a $5,500 fine.

What Happens at A Visit?

When you are visiting someone in jail you will be required to prove your identity and pass through security. This process could involve sniffer dogs and a metal detector.

Contact visits

For contact visits, you will be led into a room where the visit will be conducted. At all times you are required to stay seated at a table. However, you are allowed to touch, hug and kiss the inmate.

Box visits

If the correctional centre has a concern for the safety of you or the inmate, or if they believe it to be necessary for some other reason, you may be required to meet for a non-contact visit. This is a visit where you are separated from the inmate by glass, and no physical contact is allowed.

Rules when Visiting Someone in Jail

The rules when visiting someone in jail are as follows:

  • No smoking;
  • You will not be allowed in if you are under the influence of alcohol or other drugs;
  • If you behave in a disruptive way you may be forced to leave and could be barred from returning;
  • You must stay seated on chairs, you may not sit on laps or on tables;
  • You can only make contact with the inmate that you are authorized to visit, and cannot join other visitors at other tables.

Can I Take Children to a Visit?

Children can visit inmates, but they must be accompanied by an adult. If you are bringing children with you when visiting someone in jail, remember that you need to bring identification for them as well as yourself (passport or birth certificate).

If you don’t think that your children will be able to behave themselves for the duration of a visit, or you do not want to take them with you there are childcare facilities called SHINE at several correctional centres where you can leave your children while you visit an inmate. For more information call 9714 3000 (Sydney); 4582 2141 (Windsor); 6332 5957 (Bathurst) or visit www.shineforkids.org.au.

If an inmate is in custody for offences involving child victims there are special requirements that must be met before children will be allowed to visit. Call the Child Protection and Coordination Support Unit on 8346 1333 for more information.

What Happens If I’m Barred from Visiting Someone in jail?

If you break any of the rules of the jail while visiting someone in jail you can be removed from the correctional centre and barred from returning. This bar can be imposed either by the particular correctional centre or by the Commissioner of Corrections.

If the bar is imposed by the particular centre that you have been visiting it only applies to that centre, so you are still able to visit other jails. The terms of the bar are at the discretion of the General Manager of the centre. They make a decision as to whether you are barred completely or just from particular types of visits; whether you can still visit some inmates while barred from visiting others and how long the bar is for. If you wish to appeal that decision you need to write to the General Manager, addressing the reasons for which you were barred. There is no formal process of review for such a decision.

If you have been barred by the Commissioner you will receive a formal letter outlining the terms of the Commissioner’s direction. This decision is made under the regulation 108 of the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Regulation 2014.

The Commissioner will consider one request to review a decision made under the Regulations. This request needs to be made in writing and should address the circumstances that caused you to be barred, whether you prejudice the good order and security of the correctional centre and whether on previous visits you have acted in a threatening, offensive, indecent, obscene, abusive or improper way. It should include your full name, date of birth, VIN and an address for the Commissioner to respond to.

The letter should be addressed:

To the Commissioner of Corrections

Visits Review Unit

Locked Mail Bag 3

Australia Post Business Centre

SILVERWATER NSW 1811

Even though the Commissioner has directed that you be prevented from visiting any correctional centre, it is within the Commissioner’s power to nonetheless permit you to continue to visit a particular inmate or a particular correctional centre subject to any condition that the commissioner considers to be appropriate. If you are only intending on visiting one inmate, it is recommended that you identify that inmate in your letter of appeal (by name and MIN) and indicate that if the Commissioner is unwilling to vary the ban they might consider allowing you limited visiting rights.

If, after reviewing your case, the Commissioner maintains your bar from jail visits there is little more that can be done to reverse the decision. In limited circumstances the matter may be reviewable by a court or by NCAT. If you are in this position the solicitors at Armstrong Legal are familiar with the principles and practices of judicial and administrative review and may be able to help you.

How Else Can I Make Contact?

You can also stay in contact with a person while they are in jail in the following ways.

Telephone Calls

Unfortunately, there is no way for you to place calls to an inmate. However, they can call you. Each inmate has a phone card with 6 numbers on it that they can call. Inmates can have this card programmed to include family, friends, their lawyer and other services as required.

When you receive a call from an inmate you will first be informed that you are receiving a call from a correctional centre. Once the inmate is on the line you will have up to 6 minutes to speak.

Please note that even when you make arrangements for an inmate to call you at a certain time or on a certain day, things outside of their control can get in the way of them being able to contact you. Often there are queues to use the phones, or there is an incident at the jail that causes the inmates to be locked down and so calls are not allowed.

Mail

Letters to inmates are encouraged. The MIN of an inmate should be clearly printed on main that you send. Also be aware that all letters are opened by prison staff and screened for illegal activity before they are passed on to inmates. Some correctional centres allow friends and family to send clothing, books and magazines to inmates, but you will need to enquire with the specific centre before sending anything more than letters.

Video Visits

If you live too far away from the correctional centre, or if you or other members of an inmate’s friends and family are hindered from visiting in person by disability or age, visits via video link can be arranged.

An inmate can apply for a video visit from inside the correctional centre and can nominate up to 4 adults and 4 children to participate in the visit. The application process takes around 2 weeks. If and when the application is approved you will get a call to coordinate the visit. You will be required to go to somewhere with the necessary technology for the visit.

Video visits can go for up to one hour, and you can bring whatever you like to show through the screen.

What can I do if I have a Problem with Jail Staff on a Visit?

You should first ask to speak with the most senior staff member on duty or wait and call the General Manager of the correctional centre on the next working day to make your complaint.

If you are dissatisfied with the outcome of your complaint at the correctional centre level you can write to the Commissioner of Corrections or in limited circumstances contact the NSW Ombudsman.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

WHERE TO NEXT?

If you suspect that you may be under investigation, or if you have been charged with an offence, it is vital to get competent legal advice as early as possible. Our lawyers are highly specialised in criminal law and will be able to guide you through the process while dealing with the various authorities related to your matter.

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