Right to communicate

Whilst in prison, you should be able to maintain relationships with your family and other persons as normally as possible. This includes your right to meet them in person for at least as many times as reasonably necessary for maintaining a relationship with them. The objective of your contact with the outside world is to facilitate your contact with your family, relatives and other close people in order to prevent the breaking of your social links.

During these meetings, you should be able to talk to your family members directly without having a separating wall between you. You should also be able to have some physical contact (such as a hug or holding hands) with your family members, even during short visits.  

What is family?

According to Estonian law, members of your family are your:

  • parents
  • spouse
  • children (including step children and foster children)
  • adoptive parents
  • siblings
  • grandparents
  • grandchildren
  • adoptive child 
  • step parents
  • foster parents 

Your unmarried partner, with whom you have been living or have children together, is also considered your family member. 

Frequency and duration of visits

In Estonia, there are two types of visits that you can have with the members of your family and other relatives – short visits (up to 3 hours) and long visits (up to 48 hours). 

The frequency and duration of visits depends on the type of prison you are in and the level of the sentence execution regime. You may also have short visits with persons other than your family members. 

You are permitted to receive at least one short-time visit supervised visit per month from your family members and other people with regard to whose reputation the prison service has no reasoned doubts. 

You are allowed to receive long-term visits from your spouse, father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, child, grandchild, adoptive parent, adoptive child, step parent or foster parent, step child or foster child, brother or sister. Long-term visits from a cohabitee shall be allowed on the condition that you have common children or at least two years of cohabitation prior to commencement of serving the sentence. A long-term visit means that you and a visitor are allowed to be together without constant supervision in prison premises designated for such purpose during a twenty-four hour period. Upon adjudicating an application from you for a long-term visit, a prison service officer may prolong, in justified cases, the long-term visit to the term of up to three days, provided that this is in compliance with the objectives of execution of imprisonment and your conduct has been good during the time of serving the sentence.

If you are detained in detention house you shall be allowed one weekly short-term visit under supervision with your family members or other persons. Servicemen serving disciplinary detention shall not be allowed to receive short-term visits under supervision. The duration of a visit shall be up to two hours. The procedure for visits shall be provided for in the internal rules of the detention house.

If you are in custody you shall be permitted to receive short-term visits of personal, legal or commercial interest in matters which the person in custody cannot conduct through third persons. In case you are a citizen of foreign state, you have the unrestricted right to receive visits from consular officers of your country of nationality. You can receive visits in the presence of a prison service officer who has the right to interrupt or immediately terminate the visit if the visit may damage the conduct of criminal proceedings. The duration and specific procedure for short-term visits received shall be provided for in the internal rules of the prison. However, you do not have the right for a long-term visits.  

Restrictions and monitoring

Every restriction (such as, the number of visits, the duration of visits or the methods of supervision) must be as permitted under the law, well-grounded and limited in time. 

Estonian law allows restrictions on visits in prisons, but only for security reasons or as a disciplinary punishment. An individual decision regarding a restriction must be recorded. The need for restrictions should be well-reasoned, individually assessed and specific to your case. The restrictions should not be more severe than necessary for your individual situation.  

important The prison administration cannot prevent you from seeing your family at all. 

Esonian law allows the prison administration to monitor your meetings, but only if there are security concerns, if the visitor requests this or if there are other well-grounded reasons. These reasons must be individually assessed and specific to your case. An individual decision regarding the level of monitoring should be made. The prison administration should choose the least restrictive method of monitoring that is effective in your situation.

example Mute video surveillance will be less restrictive than having a guard present in the meeting room. 

If you have committed to a punishment cell to serve a disciplinary penalty you are not allowed to receive short-term visits. 

If you are staying in the reception ward of a prison or in an open prison or committed to a punishment cell to serve a disciplinary penalty you shall not be allowed to receive long-term visits. The procedure and frequency of long-term visits and the list of items permitted on visits shall be provided for in the internal rules of the prison.

What human rights violation may there be?

If your visits are unlawfully restricted and monitored, namely, in situations that are not allowed by law, where restrictions are unnecessary or too strict for your case, this may result in the violation of your privacy and family life

If the head of your prison has denied you a visit or applied unlawful monitoring methods, you should complain to the Director of the Estonian Prison Administration. Read more about how to complain.

Human Rights Guide

A European platform for human rights education