Frequently Asked Questions

Can anyone be an OPV?

  • Yes, subject to security clearance, depending on the category of prisoners to be visited.

Are there any restrictions on who can volunteer to be an OPV?

The following aren’t allowed to volunteer:

  • Journalists
  • Criminal lawyers
  • Students who are researching prisons or the lives of prisoners
  • Any persons employed or actively involved in the criminal justice system.

Can an OPV visit any prison?

  • OPVs usually visit at a prison close to their home or place of work; they are only allowed to visit at one prison.

How many prisoners can an OPV visit at a time?

  • This will depend on the prison’s arrangements and the availability of OPVs there.

How frequently do OPVs visit?

  • Most OPVs visit weekly or fortnightly; frequency is less important than regularity.

When do visits take place?

  • This depends on the prison, but usually in afternoons during the week and weekends.

How safe is it to be an OPV?

  • Very safe. During a visit, prison staff are always in evidence, whether in the Visits Hall or ‘on the wing’.

Does an OPV know the prisoner’s offence?

  • Not unless the prisoner divulges this, and the OPV shouldn’t ask the prisoner.

If an OPV has a strong faith, will it be possible to share that with a prisoner?

  • OPVs are not allowed to proselytise – that is, to overtly promote their faith – so great sensitivity is required. If this is an issue for an OPV, there are other volunteering opportunities within a prison.

What’s the difference between an Official Prison Visitor and other volunteers?

  • Official Prison Visitors are appointed by prison governors to carry out a specific task. Other volunteers support the work of the prison chaplains – e.g. by helping at services or organising a chaplaincy choir.

Does an OPV have a choice as to which prisoners are visited?

  • The Chaplaincy team allocate an OPV to a prisoner on a supply and demand basis. Visiting continues by mutual consent, and either the prisoner or the OPV can terminate visiting at any time.

Can an OPV have contact with the prisoner’s family?

  • No. The role of the OPV is an anonymous friend who visits and ‘brings the outside in’. Furthermore, once a prisoner has been released or transferred the OPV should have no further contact with him or her.

What do the OPV and prisoner talk about?

  • Anything! It could be about the weather outside, prison food, a prisoner’s interests, politics, sport, a prisoner’s worries, films, music, TV programmes… whatever the prisoner wants to talk about.

What will the prisoner know about the OPV?

  • Nothing other than the OPV’s first name and that he/she is an Official Prison Visitor. The OPV’s identity will remain secret, although discussions may include the OPV’s job, interests and experiences.

What should remain confidential in OPV/prisoner discussion?

  • Everything, except disclosures about self-harming, harm to other prisoners, staff or the prison estate.

Having applied, how long does it take to become an OPV?

  • The process can vary from a few weeks to a few months.

Paper Flowers on a Red Pot, HM Prison Peterborough, 2019
Spontaneous Fusion, HM Prison Standford Hill, 2018
Back Together, HM Prison & Young Offender Institution Low Newton, 2018
GNU's at Nine, HM Prison Elmley, 2018