Whether you are about to get sent to prison, or you have a loved one that is in prison, you may be wondering what jail visits are like in Australia. In movies, you see inmates seated in a tiny room, separated from their visitor by perspex, and communicating through the phone in the room. Fortunately this is not how most visits happen in Australian prisons. Those types of visits are called box visits and they are only used in extraordinary circumstances, for example if the inmate is too dangerous or has a history of smuggling contraband in during visits.
Visits in jail are one of the best things that inmates look forward to, because it is a chance to see your family and friends again, and remind you of life outside. It gives you motivation to keep going with the daily grind in jail, because you remember that there is life after prison, and you will get there.
Maximum security visits
In maximum security prisons, inmates must wear white overalls for the duration of the visit, to prevent the smuggling of contraband. Visitors will be seated at a table and chairs that are bolted to the floor, and the inmate must sit in their designated seat, and is not allowed to get up until the end of their visit. Visitors can buy snacks or drinks from a vending machine in the visiting area, but cannot bring in any food from outside.
The visiting hours depend on the jail, as does the duration of the visit, but it will be usually 30 min to 1 hour. It is not long at all, the visit will fly by, but make the most of it. If you are a visitor, make sure you arrive early - you don't want to turn up 15min late and miss out on half the visit.
Visiting area in a maximum security prison
Picture: Adam Taylor
Minimum security visits
In minimum security prisons, inmates don't need to wear white overalls during their visit, instead they can wear their usual prison greens. The visits are still in a room where the table and chairs are bolted down, but the environment is more relaxed.
The visiting hours depend on the jail, as well as the duration, but they are generally longer than in maxo. For example, the visits could be 1.5 hours, or even longer for a remote farm jail.
How long are visits?
This depends on the specific jail, but it varies from 30min to an hour for maxo, or 1.5 hrs or more for minimum security prisons.
When can I get visits?
The visit days depend on each prison, but it is usually weekends only. Some may have visits on Thursdays as well, or public holidays. Be sure to look up the specific prison you will be visiting to check which days are available. Most jails will also require you to make a booking beforehand.
Inmates - what to expect
Before your visit, you will be required to change into white overalls if you are in maxo. If you are in minimum, you can remain in your greens. The screws will write down any items of clothing you wear into the visit, to ensure that you are not bringing anything extra out of the visit. This includes shoes, watches and glasses. When you enter the visit area, you will be directed to where your visitors are seated. You will need to sit on the designated coloured seat that is for inmates only.
You may be overwhelmed with emotion, especially if it is your first visit, or if you haven't had a visit in a long time. Remember to enjoy and treasure the short time you have together, because the visit will fly by. Make sure you go to the toilet before you enter the visit area, because if you need to leave to go to the toilet, your visit will be terminated.
After your visit, you will be strip searched by a screw to ensure you haven't got any contraband to smuggle into the prison. It will be hard to say goodbye to your family and friends when they leave, but hold onto the memories of the visit until you see them again.
Visitors - what to expect
If you are a visitor, you must ensure you have booked a visit, if the prison you are visiting requires it. If it is your first visit, you will be given a VIN (Visitor Index Number), and when you visit you will need to provide your ID (such as driver licence or passport) to confirm your identity. When you arrive, there may be a wait to be processed, especially if there are many visitors at the same time, so ensure you arrive early so you do not eat into your visit time.
When you arrive you will may be searched, which could include looking through your bag, emptying your pockets, or going through an x-ray scanner. You are not allowed to bring mobile phones, guns, knives, alcohol, syringes, cigarettes, lighters, or jewellery into the visiting area. In fact, they are very strict even with dress code, and you cannot wear any clothing that is too revealing, nor hoodies, hats or sunnies which can be used to hide your identity.
It can be overwhelming for you as a visitor when you see your loved one for the first time in prison, especially if they are in the white overalls. You may feel so sorry for them, and want to take away all their pain, but know that your visits are so meaningful to them and you are helping them so much just by being there for them in person.
If you are looking for more info, you can send me an email using the Contact Form below. I will do my best to get back to you as soon as possible.
Ask an ex-inmate any questions about jail
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I am also available for telephone consultations if you need to chat for longer.