National Association of Official Prison Visitors

National Association of Official Prison Visitors (UK)
Type Charity
Founded 1924
Headquarters Not city specific, UK

The National Association of Official Prison Visitors (NAOPV) promotes and helps to maintain the work of United Kingdom Official Prison Visitors. The Lord Chancellor is ex-officio President, and the Association is run at national level by a small Executive Committee elected by OPVs, and also by a General/Membership Secretary who may be an OPV and a member of the Association.

The Association was formed in 1924, but traces its origins back to 1901, when prison visiting was first officially recognised. In 2003 the Association became a registered charity and "Official" was inserted into the title, which is why some older references refer to the "NAPV" rather than the "NAOPV".

The Executive Committee maintains regular liaison with Prison Service staff at national and regional level; contact is also maintained with agencies working with offenders and those having interest in penal affairs. A regular newsletter is sent to all OPVs. The NAOPV is a registered charity and a respected Association which is often approached by the media for information on prison visiting matters and has, more than once, been asked to a House of Commons Committee.

The formation of an NAOPV Branch in a prison strengthens the application and independence of OPVs by giving them group identity. Liaison with prison staff widens experience on both sides. The Branch Chairman and Secretary are points of contact for OPVs, prison staff and other Branches in the region. Branches have joint-strength, and are backed by the Regional Secretary, the Executive Committee, etc. to national level.


The first prison visitors in English and Welsh prisons were probably the family and friends of prisoners who came into prison bringing food and clothing, and this of course continues today with V.O. (Visiting Order) visits. Ministers of religion also made visits, as did officials carrying out inspections, but for many years there were few others. Early visitors included John Wesley who wrote of visits to Newgate Prison in London by Sarah Peters and Silas Todd and others who began visiting in October 1748, (sadly Sarah died of gaol fever only one month later). Sarah Martin of Yarmouth began prison visiting in 1810 and was mentioned by the prison inspectorate to be still visiting in 1835. It is unfortunate that more names of these early visitors were not recorded.

It was, however, with the advent of Elizabeth Fry's visits to Newgate Prison in 1813 that prison visiting became something of "a cause". The work that she and her colleagues carried out at Newgate showed not only understanding, compassion and humanity but was an inspiration to others and she soon realised that co-operation with like-minded people could lead to great things. The result was the "Ladies Association for the Female Prisoners in Newgate". In due course this fine organisation became a national one and is, in some ways, an antecedent of today's National Association of Official Prison Visitors.

However valuable the work of Mrs. Fry and her colleagues was, it was only possible due to the earlier efforts of John Howard, sometime High Sheriff of Bedfordshire, whose 1777 book "State of the Prisons" led to a higher profile of the prison situation in Parliament. Today Howard's name lives on in the Howard League for Penal Reform.

By 1900 members of the "Lady Visitors Association" were visiting young male prisoners in addition to females, and in 1922 this was officially recognised for the first time, but only at the Boys' Prison at Wandsworth (subsequently transferred to Wormwood Scrubs). Gradually Lady Visitors began to visit adult male prisoners too, although for many years this was without official sanction.

It took far longer for men to become involved in the voluntary visiting of male prisoners in any official way, and it was not until the Gladstone Committee of 1885 that the idea gained any credence. Even then it was to be many years (the 1920s) before adult male prisoners were able to have the benefit of a male visitor on anything like a regular basis. This was because the presence in prison of a male chaplain was thought sufficient. In 1922 an organisation was formed :- "Men Visitors Association to Men", and this was changed to "The National Association of Prison Visitors" shortly afterwards. This organisation was at first for men only, but in 1944 the two single sex groups amalgamated and kept the name of the National Association of Prison Visitors.

In 2003 the Association became a registered charity and changed its name to the present "National Association of Official Prison Visitors" (NAOPV), and at the present time promotes and encourages the visiting of several hundreds of Official Prison Visitors in English and Welsh penal establishments.

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