Convicted prisoners may send one letter a week on which the postage will be paid - the 'statutory letter’ - and at least one privilege letter, the postage for which must be paid for from the individual’s private cash allowance. The statutory letter must not be withdrawn or withheld as part of punishment for a disciplinary offence. In addition, prisoners may be granted special letters, which do not count against the statutory or privilege letters allowance. A special letter should be granted, for example, after conviction to help settle business affairs, or when transferred to a different prison, or to make arrangements regarding employment and accommodation on release.

In practice, prisoners in many prisons may send and receive more letters than this minimum allowance. Prisoners in open prisons have no restriction on the volume of their correspondence.

Unconvicted prisoners may send as many letters as they wish at their own expense and will be allowed two second-class letters a week on which the postage will be paid by the prison authorities.


Mail is censored in high security prisons and for all Category A prisoners, but otherwise letters will not routinely be read. Additional powers exist to vet letters sent by prisoners convicted of sexual offences against children. There is power for the governor to return an 'excessive' number of letters from a correspondent, and if they are 'overlong' the governor may request letters be limited to four sides of A5 paper. Letters may be returned to the sender if these requests are ignored. Complaints about prison treatment are no longer prohibited and letters, whether to family, to MPs, the ECtHR or to other reputable organisations, may not be stopped on this ground.

Letters between prisoners and their legal advisers are protected from interference and may not be read or stopped, whether or not legal proceedings have been issued. There may be examination of such correspondence only to the minimum extent necessary to check that it is bona fide legal correspondence. If a letter is to be inspected it must be done in the prisoner’s presence.
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