AVID Training
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For family and friends, it is difficult to see your loved ones go through the experience of being detained and to know what to do. The following information has been written so that you know what to expect if someone you know has been detained and how you can make contact with them.

There is further information in our Knowledge Hub and Visitors Handbook on other ways you can support. For further information on official policies and procedures in relation to visiting someone in detention, you should refer to the followings:

How to find and contact someone who has been detained

When someone is first detained at a reporting centre, port, airport, or police cell, they will receive an IS91 form explaining why they have been detained. They will have the opportunity to make a five-minute free call to anyone they choose, such as their lawyer or a close family member. After this, their personal belongings will be confiscated, and they will be informed about the detention centre they will be taken to once it is confirmed. In some reporting centres, there is a phone available for contact before their departure to an IRC or RSTHF.

All detained individuals are entitled to a five-minute free call when they first arrive at a centre. They will then be given a basic mobile phone (i.e. mobile phone without a camera, recording and internet facilities) with a new SIM card. Detained individuals should, where possible, retain their own SIM card. If their SIM card is incompatible with the provided device, the centre must supply a compatible SIM card. The person who has been detained should also be given the opportunity to take down essential contact numbers from their previous phone. If your friend or family member is at risk of detention, then it is helpful for them, and for you, to have a list of emergency contact numbers already prepared and kept in a safe place. They should also be prepared with the knowledge of what to expect when they are detained and that they can request to make a call when they arrive at the centre to pass on their new contact number.

In addition, according to the DSO on Mobile phones and internet accessible devices, ‘Detained individuals should also be given the opportunity to divert theirpersonal mobile phone to the new handset provided by the centre and to leave a voicemail message informing callers of their temporary number.’ This can be requested during the induction or afterwards to make sure your phone calls are diverted back to your new number.

Due to various restrictions and the impact of stress, there are many reasons why you may not hear from someone when they are first detained. You might want to contact them yourself, but detention centres usually don't provide information about those currently detained without confirming your identity. If you don't have a phone number, you can email them, as they will have access to email inside the centre.

  • For further advice, please contact AVID. We can reach out to visitor groups in our network who might have encountered the person you are trying to reach.

How to arrange a visit and what to bring along

The detained person will normally be given a leaflet on arrival that contains information on how family and friends can arrange a visit. The leaflet will contain the number to call or an email address to book a visit.

Visiting times and contact details for each centre are also provided on gov.uk: https://www.gov.uk/immigration-removal-centre. It can help to have the CID number issued to your friend/family member when booking a visit.

In most cases, centres will require you to book a day in advance and will give you a list of acceptable forms of ID to bring with you on the day. It is also important to note that if you are a family member or friend without the right documentation (waiting on a decision for an application) you will likely be refused entry. You can check the list of documents that you require to do your visit here.

You can bring in a limited amount of cash/coins to buy drinks and snacks from the vending machine. You are also allowed to bring in some money to pay into your loved one’s account which they can spend within the centre. The amount of clothes you can bring in for your loved one will depend on the amount left of their allocated amount (23kg). You are not allowed to bring food or drink due to Health and Safety reasons.

What to expect on the day

Some centres have a shuttle service system between the train station and the centre due to the location being far from any train station. If you would like to use this service, you can book when booking your visit.

When you arrive at the centre, you will be subjected to a search process, where your bags and pockets will be searched. You may also be given a rub down search and might need to go through an airport style scanner, depending on the centre. In all cases, the search must be carried out in a respectful way.

When your loved one is allowed to come join you, they also go through a rub down search, which can be emotional on both sides, but remember, you are allowed to get up and give them a hug when they approach you.

You should be able to choose where you want to sit within the visits hall, although sometimes the centre staff will allocate specific seats for you and your loved one where you will be expected to sit. Officers will be present, but they should not be within listening distance of your conversation. The detention centre rules state that “every visit to a detained person shall take place out of the hearing of an officer unless the Secretary of State otherwise directs in a particular case in the interests of security or safety.”

Visiting a friend/family member who is detained in prison

Most prisons in England & Wales now allow online booking for visits without a visiting order https://www.gov.uk/prison-visits. You will need the name, prison number and date of birth for the person you are visiting, the dates of birth for all visitors coming with you, and to make sure the person you’re visiting has added you to their visitor list. Visits need to be booked 24-48 hours in advance, depending on the prison.

Where the online booking system is not available, social visits require a visiting order to be sent by the person in prison to a named person. The visiting order will give you the information needed to book your visit by telephone or email. 

 People detained in prisons under immigration powers are entitled to be treated as unconvicted (i.e. on remand). Remand prisoners are entitled to receive as many social visits as they wish, within reasonable limits. 

It is possible for family members, partners or visitors to someone who does not get other visitors to get help with the cost of prison visits, if certain circumstances apply. More information and the online application form can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/help-with-prison-visits.

You should ensure that you arrive at the prison early enough to follow the strict entry procedure.  You’ll need to bring ID (generally a passport or other photo ID), and proof of your address, and the visiting order if you  have been sent one. You must leave all your personal belongings in a locker in the visitors’ centre but can take loose change to buy drinks and snacks.  On entering the prison adult visitors will have their biometric information (photo and fingerprint) captured, you will be searched, and there may be additional checks including metal detectors and drug detection dogs. You will then be escorted to the visits hall, a large busy room, sometimes with play areas for children.

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