While the exact rules and regulations for inmate visitation vary from facility to facility, in most correctional facilities, there are similarities in the visitation process. Familiarizing yourself with the basics of inmate visitation will help you prepare to visit someone who is incarcerated. However, you always want to contact the prison, jail, or youth detention facility prior to planning your visit. Each facility has specific rules that you must follow in order to visit. In addition, visitation at all correctional facilities is subject to sudden changes, because jail and prison populations are volatile. A prison or jail that is experiencing unrest or violence may have visitation suspended in a pod or housing unit or even the entire prison. In addition, if a jail or prison is experiencing an outbreak of a contagious illness, visitation may be restricted until the facility can contain or control the illness.
- Only approved visitors may visit. At almost all prison facilities and youth detention centers, as well as many jails, all visitors must be pre-approved. To be pre-approved, the inmate you desire to visit must put you on a visitation list. Then, the correctional facility must approve you as a visitor. Generally, approval is inmate-specific; just because you are approved to visit one inmate at a facility does not mean that you will be permitted to visit other inmates at that same facility. When considering approval, correctional facilities look at a number of factors. First, they look at the history between you and the inmate you intend to visit. If you were a victim of a violent crime perpetrated by the inmate, including domestic violence, the correctional facility probably will not approve the visitation. If you have a criminal record, the facility may not approve you as a visitor, although some facilities will make exceptions for family members. If you were incarcerated at the same institution where the inmate is currently incarcerated, the facility will almost certainly deny approval for your visitation.
- In addition, many facilities limit the number of non-relatives that an inmate can have on his or her visitation lists. Generally, all qualified immediate family members will be permitted to be on the inmate’s visitation list, as will many close extended family members such as cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. However, an inmate will then have to narrow down the list of potential visitors who are not relatives. Clergy and some other types of social work providers may be able to visit without being placed on an individual’s visitor list.
- Some visits must be scheduled. Depending on how crowded the facility is and its individual rules for visitation, some visits must be scheduled. Those that require advanced scheduling usually require approximately 72 hours’ notice prior to a visit. Missed visitations may result in having your visitation approval revoked.
- You will be expected to obey prison rules, no matter how arbitrary they may seem, when you visit. Prisons frequently have rules about:
The number of visitors allowed to visit an inmate at a single time.
The clothing you may wear during a visit.
What, if anything, a visitor can bring to the visitation.
Whether minors can visit adult inmates.
Rules regarding what items can be brought with infants and toddlers that are visiting the jail facility.
The type of identification required for all visitors.
- Respect the dress code. Many visitors are taken aback that prisons have dress codes for visitors. Generally, the dress codes will dictate modest dress for all visitors. Visitors are expected to wear gender-appropriate under-garments, which are not revealed by the visitors’ clothing. Clothing is expected to be size appropriate; visitors might be turned away for clothing that is overly tight or overly loose. Some facilities require visitors to wear pants, rather than shorts or skirts, but in facilities that permit shorts or skirts, they should be at least knee length. Many facilities bar clothing that reveals any cleavage. Shirts must cover the entire torso; both male and female visitors are generally prohibited from wearing any type of belly shirt. Almost all facilities prohibit visitors from wearing hats and removable wigs. Finally, visitors should not wear any clothing that is similar to what inmates or guards wear in the facility.
- Expect to be searched. You may face multiple searches when you enter the facility. Your car may be searched when you first enter the facility and you may be subjected to different levels of searches when you actually physically enter the facility for visitation. You will probably not be permitted to bring any type of purse or handbag with you into the facility, though you may be permitted to bring some type of diaper bag if accompanied by an infant.
- Minors almost always have to be accompanied by an adult for visitation, though some facilities may approve visitation for older minors who are not accompanied by adults.
- Observe the rules for physical contact. Most facilities bar physical contact during the visit, though some will permit a brief hug, handshake, or chaste kiss at the beginning and end of the visit. Some facilities may also permit inmates to hold infants or toddlers during the visit. Make sure you understand the rules for physical contact during the visit and observe the rules; because contact greatly increases the opportunity to pass contraband to an inmate, most prison guards will be very stringent about those rules.