The purpose and type of each visit will govern how the team proceeds and should therefore be specifically defined beforehand. In broad outline, there are five generic types of visit:
- In-depth visits: So-called in-depth visits are by nature preventive, as they aim at having an understanding as comprehensive as possible of the place visited (prisons, police stations, psychiatric institutions, or others). In large institutions, in-depth visits generally last several days and up to a few weeks, as they intend to cover all aspects of conditions and treatment in the facility. During such visits, a broad range of issues will be thoroughly analysed, from procedural safeguards and food to healthcare and staff working conditions. In-depth visits, particularly to large establishments, require a multidisciplinary team with a diversity of expertise and competences. All facilities across a given country should be at least once the object of an in-depth visit. In-depth visits can be either announced or unannounced, although announced visits have the advantage of easing the work of both the visiting team and the staff working in the facility, particularly in large establishments, such as prisons or psychiatric institutions.
- Thematic visits: The objective of thematic visits is to look at specific issues only, often across a series of similar facilities, but not necessarily. For example, NPMs could look into how detainees are notified about their rights in police custody, the use of isolation and restraints in psychiatric institutions or how solitary confinement is applied across different types of detention settings. Specific themes are often chosen following recurring allegations over certain issues, whether identified by the NPM itself or by others, such as NGOs or the media. Thematic visits are often followed by thematic reports that highlight key issues of concern to a broader audience. They constitute a good opportunity for addressing the underlying systemic causes.
- Follow-up visits: The most reliable way of ascertaining whether the NPMs’ recommendations have been implemented is to conduct follow-up visits. Follow-up visits are therefore based on previous reports and recommendations. They are usually shorter than in-depth visits, although NPMs may conduct a second phase of in-depth that would include a follow-up of their recommendations previously made. It is essential that NPMs have an efficient internal system to easily track reports and therefore adequately follow-up on their recommendations. Follow-up visits can also refer to visits aimed at following up recommendations made by other bodies, in particular the SPT.
- Ad hoc visits: They refer to visits which are not planned in the programme of visits. They can take place following a major event (such as fire or a strike) or can be required because the NPM has gathered information about possible patterns of abuse in a specific facility or in a series of facilities. Ad hoc visits therefore aim at further investigating issues of particular concern. Programmes of visits need to include some degree of flexibility and leave room for unplanned visits, which are important and feed into the preventive work.
- Reactive visits: They refer to visits reacting to specific allegations. They usually take place following a complaint, received either from a detainee, a relative or an NGO. They are not part of the established programme of visits. Although reactive visits may be required, both for the credibility of the NPM and by the urgency of the situation, they should remain exceptional and not divert the NPM from its preventive mandate.