The experiences of men in prison who do not receive visits from family or friends: A qualitative systematic review

Dean Burns, Conor Murray, Jennifer Ferguson, Linda Moore

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Background. Visits present an opportunity for prisoners to preserve family ties and reduce isolation, but not all receive visits from family or friends whilst incarcerated.

Aims. To locate, appraise and synthesise qualitative data on the experiences of adult male prisoners (aged 18 years+) who do not receive prison visits from family or friends.

Methods. Nine electronic databases were searched from the date of their inception until March 2023. The quality of included studies was assessed using the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP) checklist for qualitative studies, and data from the studies were synthesised using the thematic synthesis method.

Results. Eighteen studies from seven countries (the USA, the UK [England, Northern Ireland & Scotland], Canada, Netherlands and the Philippines were eligible for inclusion. Three main themes emerged: (1) reasons for not receiving visits; (2) harmful effects of not receiving visits; (3) the value of volunteer visitor programmes. Practical problems were cited as interfering with visiting opportunities, but also some prisoners or families chose not to meet in prison.
Loneliness and depression were extensively described as effects of not receiving visits. Qualities associated with volunteer visitors included raised self-esteem, improved mood and personal growth.

Conclusions. Narratives of the experiences of adult men in prison without visits from family or friends suggest that not only the practical difficulties of imprisonment affect visiting; barriers that prisoners themselves impose would merit further exploration, as would family and relationship dynamics during incarceration and the emotional impact of prison visits, for both prisoners and their families. There are suggestions of therapeutic as well as humanitarian
benefits from volunteer visiting programmes. There is a gap in the literature about any specific effect on rebuilding family relationships.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalCriminal Behaviour and Mental Health
Early online date22 Feb 2024
Publication statusPublished online - 22 Feb 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Authors. Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • Prison visits
  • Visitation
  • Family ties
  • Well being
  • Pains of imprisonment
  • Deprivation
  • Systematic review
  • Qualitative
  • well-being
  • visitation
  • pains of imprisonment
  • deprivation
  • family ties
  • prison visits


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