If you're new to the experience of visiting someone in prison, the thought can seem daunting at first. Prisons are a place run by strict rules, regulations, and schedules.
That's why it's so important to prepare when visiting a prisoner -- you need to do some research beforehand on what the incarceration facility expects from you as a visitor.
With this in mind, it's doesn't have to be a scary, complicated process. You just have to make sure you follow the rules correctly and focus on making the most of the time you have with your loved one.
Here's what you ought to know.
1. Ensure You're on the Approved List Before Visiting a Prisoner
Before you plan your prison visit, you'll need to get in touch with the prison and your loved one to let them know you're visiting. From there, prison administration will add you to the inmate visitor's list. Most of the time, an inmate can have up to 10 different visitors included on their visitor's list.
In order to approve a visitor, an inmate must provide personal details about each visitor, such as their full name, address, contact number, and other information. It's your job to ensure an inmate knows all of this information -- either through a letter or phone call.
After this, you'll need to fill out a form in order to qualify for the preapproved visitor's list (only if you're 18 years old). With this information, the prison conducts a background check before adding you to the visitor's list. This is how they approve or deny your visitation rights.
If you plan on bringing children along for a prison visit, you'll have to fill out authorization forms on their behalf, beforehand. In order to find out whether the prison approves your visitation, you'll have to keep in touch with the inmate who will let you know. Or you could call the prison for an update.
Most of the time, a prison facility will not update you directly.
2. Understand Visitation Limits
Limits on visitation times and duration vary from one prison to the next. That's why it's up to you to call the facility and acquaint yourself with the limitations that apply.
Generally, most prisons permit one visit per inmate over the weekend. The duration of this visit is up to two hours. But bear in mind that certain circumstances may arise, and your visiting time shortened.
3. Some Prisons Allow for Special Visits
Understandably, it's not always as simple as driving 20-minutes to an incarceration facility to visit an inmate. Sometimes, they're moved hundreds of miles away and it might take you a few hours to get there by car, train, or bus.
In this case, you can apply for a special visit if you have to travel 300 miles or more in order to visit an inmate. But you'll have to get in touch with the prison warden well in advance to arrange this visit.
Special visitation allows you to spend up to four hours with an inmate, spread over two consecutive days in a row. However, special visitation slots are limited and sometimes only occur once a month. So make sure to schedule yours well in advance.
4. Always Be Punctual for Your Visit
As mentioned earlier, prisons run on a tight schedule and visitation hours are no different. In order to maximize the time you have with an inmate, you want to arrive at least 15-minutes early so that have time for all the visitation processing.
It's also a good idea to confirm your visit and the correct time beforehand, in case it's canceled at the last minute, without you knowing.
An inmate's visitation privileges are not always guaranteed as well, so you want to be sure you're visiting on the right day at the right time. Showing up late does not look good for both you and the person you're visiting, so plan your time well.
5. Research What You Can and Can't Bring Into a Prison
It's important to face the reality that most prisons house dangerous people. Especially state prisons which tend to have a higher population of prisoners who've committed a violent crime.
This is why there is such strict protocol around visitation and what you can and can't bring with you during your visits. Before you visit the facility, do your research on what you're permitted to bring with you. This also includes what you can and can't have in your car, especially if you drive a pick-up truck.
Most of the time, you're permitted to carry your driver's license or ID card, loose change, a car key, and eyeglasses. Sunglasses, cellphones, electronic devices, medications, tobacco products, matches, and lighters are not permitted.
In most prisons, you're not allowed to bring food for inmates, either. If you plan on bringing a small child or infant, do some research on what you're permitted to bring for them, too.
6. Always Dress Appropriately
This is a no-brainer. Think about the setting of a prison and you'll understand why dressing appropriately is so important. If you're not dressed properly, the facility can deny you access to your visit.
You want to avoid revealing, showy, or provocative clothing at all times. You also want to avoid wearing anything that resembles military gear or matches too closely to inmate uniforms. Do not wear anything that could entice inmates, such as politically driven slogans, etc.
Make sure to avoid wearing a work uniform, such as medical scrubs, for example, as this could put you at risk as a visitor. Wear as little, if any, jewelry at all on your visit.
At the end of the day, prison guards make the decision on whether your clothing is appropriate or not. They may ask you to change or remove certain items (i.e. jewelry) if it's objectionable.
7. Always Be Respectful and Polite
You want to remember your manners when you visit an inmate in prison. It's crucial that you show prison guards, other inmates, and other visitors respect and courtesy.
In general, this helps to create a calm environment that all inmates and visitors can enjoy during visitation times. Disruptive behavior can also work against you and your visitation rights in the future.
8. Be Mindful of Displays of Affection
Depending on the type of prison, they might not permit displays of affection or touching at all between inmates and visitors. If they do permit touching, keep your displays of affection very limited. This might include a quick hug or handshake at the beginning and end of your visit, and that's about it.
If correctional staff are unhappy with a display of affection they may ask you to stop, move away from one another, or limit your visitation rights in the future.
Want To Learn More About an Inmate or Facility?
With Jail Exchange, visiting a prisoner in a correctional facility just got a whole lot easier. If you're looking for information about an inmate, or the facility they're housed in, you can find it on Jail Exchange.
We offer free information on both inmates and facilities across America, whether it's a state, federal, city, or county jail. Got questions? Contact us here.