The (surprising) things you're allowed in your prison cell


Man in a prison cell

For more than a year new rules meant that prisoners were unable to receive parcels, even if they contained just books.

It was part of a scheme limiting items inmates could be sent in an attempt to stop drugs getting into jails.

But the Incentives and Earned Privileges scheme, introduced in 2013, was criticised for the restrictions.

Opponents took issue with books being blocked, saying that reading can help offenders rehabilitate.

Supporters said that prison libraries should be enough - but critics said these were often poorly staffed and under stocked.

Now the rules have been relaxed, meaning families and friends can again send books to relatives, so long as they are bought from four approved shops.

So what else are prisoners allowed to keep in their cells?

Man in a prison cell

"Every prison has its own rules about what you can keep in prison," says the Citizens' Advice Bureau.

"The amount of property you can have in your cell is limited to property which fits into two boxes." This equates to about six cubic feet of property.

Some prisons may also allow one outsized item, such as a stereo.

Books we know about (but not that many)


Unless given permission otherwise, prisoners are only allowed to have a total of 12 books in their cells - even if their loved ones send them more than this.

It is possible to have two extra books - but these must be a dictionary and one religious text such as a Bible or Koran.

Birds, yes...

Blue budgie looking in a mirror

Although prisoners are not allowed to keep pets, in the past some long-term inmates at a small number of facilities, were allowed to have a bird in their cell.

According to the Prisoners' Family and Friends Service, "at prisons where this applies, a bird cage is also allowed".

New birds cannot be purchased any more by inmates, but any prisoner with a bird is allowed to keep it "until it dies".

Sewing kits and paints...

Tubes of paint and brushes

As with many of these rules, different prisons have different approaches to items allowed in cells.

But according to the latest version of the Incentives and Earned Privileges guidance, prisoners who are sticking to the rules and working well towards rehabilitation are allowed access to some craft supplies.

These include paint brushes and canvases, embroidery, knitting and sewing kits and modelling match kits.

All prisoners are allowed to own pens, pencils, sketch pads and scrapbooks, playing cards and jigsaws.

Musical instruments...

Sheet music

Again, those inmates who have earned certain privileges can have one musical instrument.

The choice includes a guitar, harmonica, recorder or flute.

Sheet music can also be kept.

Games consoles (but possibly old ones)

PlayStation console

Any games console that connects to the internet is forbidden behind bars, so they might have to be pretty old like the console pictured.

Games rated 18 are also banned.

Prisoners must have the highest ranking on the Incentives and Earned Privileges in order to have a console in their cell.

And the guidance states that "they must not be provided at public expense".


Pound coin and £10 note

Any money gained from work during a prisoner's sentence is ok. Along with any cash sent by loved ones, this is usually held by the prison on behalf of the inmate.

"The amount they can actually spend weekly varies according to whether they are convicted or on remand, and whether they are on a basic, standard or enhanced regime," says the Prisoners' Family and Friends Service.

The basic rate that a prisoner is allowed to spend each week is £12.50.

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