Support for Families Affected by Imprisonment

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When a family member goes to prison, it can be a very difficult time for everyone involved. There are many different types of support that families may need, both practical and emotional. Here are some of the areas of your life that might be affected:

  • Financial: Prison can be expensive, and families may need help with things like travel costs, phone bills, and legal fees.
  • Day-to-day life: Families may need help with things like childcare, housework, and shopping.
  • Emotional: Families may need help to cope with the emotional stress of having a loved one in prison. This may include talking to a therapist, joining a support group, or attending a family day at the prison.
  • Trauma: Families endure trauma when their addresses are published in media articles, and through social media.
  • Safety: Families may be put at risk by public reaction to a loved one’s offending.
  • Sexual Offences: If your loved one has been convicted of a sexual offence, you might find that you face some unique challenges. More information can be found on our Impacts of a Conviction for a Sexual Offence page.

Families are hit by a number of financial impacts. These include:

  • Affording the basics such as clothes, food and warmth.
  • Loss of household income.
  • Increased childcare costs.
  • Having to spend money on prison visits and phone calls.

Research by PACT shows the extent of the financial, physical and emotional impacts of imprisonment on families:

“Extra costs and a loss of household income are heaping extra pressure on people already affected by the cost-of-living crisis. But the impact stretches well beyond financial problems, as family members struggle with the social stigma associated with imprisonment and their physical and mental health deteriorate”

“The harms of imprisonment are not just financial. Many respondents said their health had suffered. The social stigma associated with imprisonment can often result in people seeking to hide or avoid talking about what has happened to their loved-one: 83% of respondents said that their mental health was worse or a lot worse; 71% said that their physical health was worse or a lot worse.70% have lost relationships with friends and family. Only 29% say that they are always open about their loved-one’s time in prison.”

Source: PACT

What support can I get?

Practical and financial support

This includes:

• Housing

• Taking care of children

• Debt and money

• Any benefits you claim

• Any possessions or property you own

• Legal advice and rights

• Work

The Scottish Government have produced guudance to help with money if you're affected by imprisonment.

Support with prison visits

This includes:

• Arranging visits

• Travel expenses

• Keeping in contact in other ways

Emotional support

This includes:

• Relationships

• Coping with feelings

• Hostility you, your family or your friends might face from neighbours and the community – or from closer to home

Help with the cost of prison visits

If you are on a low income, you may be able to get help with the costs of prison visits through the Help with Prison Visits Scheme (HWPV). To get help you must be listed on both the visitor and low income list below:


Husband, Wife or Civil Partner - living as a couple before the person went into prison

Parent or Grand-parent (includes step-parent or adoptive parent)

Brother or Sister (includes half-sibling or step-sibling)

Son or Daughter (includes step or adoptive)

Next of Kin (as noted by the person in prison records)

Sole Visitor (only social visitor in the four weeks before a visit claimed)

Escort to a qualifying adult or child

Low income:

Income Support

Income-based Job Seekers Allowance

Employment and Support Allowance (Income related)

Universal Credit*

Assisted Prison Visits Scheme – Visitor Guide 3

Working Tax Credits (with Disability or Child Tax)*

Child Tax Credits*

Pension Credit

Hold HC2 or HC3 Certificate

*An income limit applies to Universal Credit and Tax Credits (see Payment Rates Section).

You can apply online.

The online application process allows you to upload your income details, receipts and visit confirmation. Payment is made into your bank account or cashed at a Post Office.

Before you make your claim, please read the additional information about the types of costs you can claim for, when and how to make your claim on the HM Prison Service & probation website.

Our Benefits page has more information.

Proof of ID

In order to visit someone in prison, you will normally need to provide two forms of ID - photo ID and proof of address.

A lack of photo ID is a common issue when visiting a person in prison. If you do not have a passport or driving licence to use as your photo ID, you can apply for a CitizenCard ID. You can apply online and it costs £18 (correct as of February 2024).

Where can I get support?

Families Outside

Families Outside are a Scottish charity who support families affected by imprisonment.

They provide one-to-one support, peer support and training.

The Families Outside Helpline, 0800 254 0088, provides impartial information and support and is often the first port of call for families and professionals looking for help and guidance.

Their leaflet, Who We Are and What We Do, provides more information on their services.

Prison visitor centres

Most prisons have a visitor centre where staff can give advice to families and friends of people in prison. Visitor centres are independent from the prison. They offer a friendly visiting space and can give you practical information on things like:

• Visiting arrangements (in person and virtual)

• Housing

• Mental health

• Domestic violence

• Childcare

• Parenting

• Support in the community

Scottish Prison Service

If you need help from The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) you should contact the prison and ask for the Family Contact Officer (FCO). Most prisons in Scotland have a FCO who can give advice and practical help to relatives.

Family Contact Officers

In each prison, there is a Family Contact Officer (FCO). This is someone whose job it is to help families to maintain links with their loved one in prison. The role of the Family Contact Officer is to offer support and advice to relatives who may have questions or concerns about their loved one.

The Family Contact officer can also signpost relatives to partner agencies who are able to offer support and understanding.

If you would like help and support, you should ask to speak to the Family Contact Officer at the prison you are visiting. You can also speak with the Family Contact Officer by telephone.

For a list of telephone numbers, please visit the Scottish Prison Service website.

It's important to note that FCO's are able to support anyone, not just those with children.

Local councils

Some local councils offer services that support people in prison and their families during and after imprisonment. To find out what help you can get in your area, visit your local council's website.


You can also speak to your GP or healthcare professional for advice around your mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Remember, you are not alone. There are many people who can help you and your family during this difficult time.

If you are concerned about your safety or your family’s safety, you should contact your local police force for advice and support.

A table with examples of appropriate language use
A table showing the notification periods for the various sentence types. Prison sentence of 30 months or more (including life), Indefinite. Order for lifelong restriction, Indefinite. Admission to a hospital subject to a restriction order, Indefinite. Prison sentence of more than 6 months but less than 30 months, 10 years. Prison sentence of 6 months or less, 7 years. Admission to a hospital without a restriction order, 7 years. Community payback order with an offender supervision requirement, The length of the offender supervision requirement. Any other sentence (e.g. a fine or admonition), 5 years.
Last updated:
March 4, 2024


The following organisations offer support on this topic.

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