Detainees are in prison either to execute a sentence or pending trials, and the vast majority of them will one day be released back into the community. Ensuring detainees can maintain contact with their families through visits, telephone calls and correspondence is a fundamental right that cannot be removed as a punishment. It can provide vital support to detainees and assist with their reintegration on release. Limitations on this contact by authorities are permissible but restrictions should be necessary and proportionate.
Keeping in touch with the outside world through television, radio, newspapers and magazines is also of great importance for detainees’ mental health, and contributes to their ability to successfully integrate with society upon release. Authorities should provide detainees with access to a range of material and mediums that cater to the needs and interests of different age, gender and language groups and differing physical and mental abilities.
When foreigners are detained, access to consular assistance is an important right that can reduce risks of ill-treatment and assist with ensuring they have access to legal assistance for their trial. Consular officials can also assist with obtaining interpreters and putting detainees in touch with their family or local support groups.
There are ever-present risks in the detention environment that corrupt practices by prison staff or internal detainee governance structures result in some detainees not being able to access the outside world. Furthermore, detainees in a situation of vulnerability such as women, children and young people, LGBTI detainees, indigenous people and foreigners face systemic disadvantages – for example, through language barriers.