America has an epidemic of parents in prison. Prisoners have nearly 1.5 million minor children, and nearly half of all prisoners are parents.
Incarceration can make the bond between parents and children tenuous. But there are ways a child can visit their parent and maintain their bond. You just need to know a few things in order to help a child.
Why should children visit their parents, and what rights do incarcerated parents have to see their children? What policies affect visitation? How can you create a smooth visit for a child?
Answer these questions and you can help a child remain in touch with their parent in no time. Here is your quick guide.
Legal Rights for Visitation
Nearly all incarcerated parents have the right to visitation with their children. It is usually in a child's best interest to maintain contact with both of their parents, even if one or both of them is in jail. Parents can offer their children love, affirmation, and support as they get older.
However, courts do not give incarcerated parents the automatic right to visit their children. An inmate parent needs to prove that they had an ongoing and positive parent-child relationship prior to their incarceration. They need to prove that visits would be convenient for the child and not impede their development.
Courts will deny parents who abused their children and/or committed violent felonies visitation rights. When a child turns 18, they may be able to initiate contact with their parent. But an abusive parent cannot contact a child prior to their adulthood, even through a letter or a phone call.
Prison Visitation Policies
Though most parents have the right to see their children, prisons have the right to impose policies on visitation. Some prisons adopt an immediate family policy. This means that prisoners can only receive guests from their immediate families.
Married prisoners can see their spouses, children, and parents. But unmarried people may not be able to meet with children they had with a partner they did not marry. Prisoners may not be able to receive visits from adopted children or stepchildren.
Most prisons require inmates to fill out forms, giving information to the prison officials about their loved ones. The prisons may then run background checks on the visitors.
Children under the age of 16 can only visit a parent in prison with a chaperone. The chaperone can be their parent, guardian, or a trusted family member like a grandparent.
To visit someone in prison, a child must go through metal detectors and have their bags checked by prison officials. They may need to wait in line for a long period of time.
A child may be able to bring a small gift, but they may need prior approval for it. Most prisons allow incarcerated people to accept books or toiletries, though the contents of the books need approval. A child may need to ship the gift to their parent instead of presenting it to them in person.
Creating a Smooth Visit
Despite the difficulties of visiting someone a jail, a child can have a smooth and pleasant visit with their parent. The key is to make preparations well in advance. Read a guide on how to prepare for visitation and follow a few different steps.
Explain What Will Happen
A child can find a correctional facility intimidating and confusing. You should sit down with the child and explain to them what will happen step by step. Tell them why prison visitation policies are in place and how the visit will end.
You can roleplay how the visit will go so a child has a clearer sense of what will happen. You can also use storybooks and visual aids so they can picture the visit in their mind.
A child may not be eager to visit their parent for some reason. You should work with the child to schedule the visit for a time that is convenient to them. You can also help them develop an activity they can do with their parent.
Visit the Prison Yourself
You or another family member should visit the inmate prior to the child's visit. This will help you understand how to visit someone in prison and set a child's expectations. You should talk to the inmate parent about how the visit should go.
You may also want to visit a prison official in person and work out the security procedure with them. This is a good idea if the child has special needs and may need accommodations for the procedure.
Keep the Child Updated on Their Parent's Life
Visits are just one way that a child and parent can stay connected. The two should write letters to each other on a regular basis. A child can type their letters if they struggle with penmanship or holding a pen.
For their parent's birthday or during the holiday season, a child can send them a care package. They can send them money for the commissary, or they can give their parent snacks or shampoo. Make sure to follow all instructions for sending prisoners a care package.
Planning Visits Between Children and Incarcerated Parents
Children should remain connected with incarcerated parents so they receive support and learn about life lessons. But parents must receive their visitation rights from a court, and visitors must follow restrictive visitation policies. Children must receive approval to visit the prison and they must go through security checks.
But you can help. Tell a child what will happen and let them remain in contact with their parent throughout their childhood. Make visits one component of a strong relationship.
Start the visitation process today. Jail Exchange provides tools for finding inmates. Find an inmate here.