Guide for women entering prison for the first time
This page provides information for women who think they may be going to prison. It includes more detail about how to prepare and what the first few days may be like. It may also be helpful to families, employers and people working with women in prison. A checklist to help you to prepare is also available to download.
The journey from court
You will be transported from court in an escort vehicle. You may be escorted in the same vehicle as male prisoners.
The journey can be long and uncomfortable.
You should be permitted toilet breaks on long journeys, although this does not always happen. They should stop more often if you are pregnant or withdrawing from drugs.
If you are pregnant, you should only be transported in the usual escort vehicles if it has been assessed as safe by a health professional.
Where will I be taken?
Women are held in separate prisons from men.
You will be usually taken to the local women’s prison that serves the court you are sentenced or remanded at. These prisons are often busy, with lots of people going in and out.
If you are unsure where you will go you can call the court and ask them which women’s prisons people normally get sent to. The following prisons accept women from court:
- HMP/YOI Bronzefield, Surrey
- HMP/YOI Peterborough, Cambridgeshire
- HMP/YOI Eastwood Park, Gloucestershire
- HMP/YOI Low Newton, County Durham
- HMP/YOI Foston Hall, Derbyshire
- HMP/YOI New Hall, West Yorkshire
- HMP/YOI Styal, Cheshire
Unless you have a very short sentence it is likely that you will be transferred to another prison soon after this. This might be an open prison or another closed prison. This prison is likely to be more settled and able to offer support with things like training and resettlement support.
What will happen when I first get to prison?
When you first arrive, you will be taken to the reception area of the prison, where;
- You will be interviewed for personal details by prison staff
- Staff may take your fingerprints and your photograph.
- You will be given a prison number.
- You will see someone from healthcare. Tell them if you have a health problem.
Tell them if you are taking any medicine, or if you have a problem with drugs or alcohol. Also tell them if you feel very upset or worried about things.
- You will be given a rub down search. Searches should always be respectful. A rub down search should not be intrusive and you should not normally be asked to raise or remove outer clothing.
If there is a reason for you to remove any item of clothing the staff should not touch you whilst you do this. At no point should you be fully naked during a search.
You may also be asked to sit in a chair which scans you for metal objects like mobile phones.
A member of prison staff will make a list of everything you brought with you. You will be told which of your property can be taken with you– this is called ‘in possession’ property. Each prison has rules about what you can keep in your possession. In possession property normally needs to fit in two property boxes.
Some items are not allowed to be in your possession.
- Mobile phones and other banned items.
- Cash and valuable items.
- Certain items of clothing such as hooded clothing, clothing with offensive slogans or clothing that does not meet basic standards of modesty and decency.
- Cigarettes, tobacco or other smoking accessories such as lighters.
This will be kept in a safe place for you. This is known as your stored property.
- You will be given bedding and clothes, if needed.
- You should receive a ‘first night pack’ (sometimes called a reception pack) containing items like tea, milk and sugar. If you are a smoker you can also request ‘vapes’ are also available on arrival. This is to help until you can buy things from the prison shop/canteen. It will usually be taken from future earnings.
- You should be allowed to phone your family or legal adviser, either in reception or first night location. You should also be told how to arrange for them to visit you—you are entitled to a social visit within 72 hours of conviction.
What happens after reception?
On the day you arrive
- You will be taken to the room you will sleep in.
- You may have to share a room with other people. Often this will be with one other person, but some prisons have dormitories which might be shared with more.
- Speak to staff if you are concerned about this or feel unsafe.
- If you are unconvicted, you should not have to share with convicted prisoners.
- Some prisons have a special area where prisoners sleep for the first night so they can get used to being in prison. This may be called the ‘first night centre’.
- You can have a bath or shower if you want one.
- You should receive hot food and a drink even if you have arrived too late for the evening meal.
During the first few days
- You will meet other staff. You may meet someone called a personal officer. You may be asked for more details about needs you have – for example if you need help with housing or employment.
- Staff will tell you more about prison life and how things work. This is called an induction.
- You may be asked to complete numeracy and literacy tests. This is so they can decide what education courses and work will be most suitable for you.
What should I do if I feel very upset or worried when I get to prison?
It is important to talk to someone if you feel like this.
You can tell
- Prison staff. You may have someone called a personal officer. Or you can talk to the officer in charge of your area of the prison (this is called the wing or landing).
- Safer Custody staff, who check to make sure people feel safe in the prison.
- The doctor or nurse who gives you the health check.
- The chaplain.
- A prisoner called a listener or buddy.
- The Samaritans.
Our advice and Information service
We can give you information on prison rules, life in prison and how to get help in prison.
We are a small service and we are independent of the prison service.