Visiting jail for the first time? Here’s what to expect.

Visiting an inmate in jail for the first time is like waiting to see a dentist. The anticipation and worry constantly increases until you are there and you realize it was not as bad as you thought it would be. Knowing what to expect before that first jail visit will reduce your anxiety.

Expect to Show Identification

You will have to show a valid, government-issued, photo ID or you will not be allowed to visit. Most jails accept the following:

  • Driver’s license
  • State-issued identification card
  • Military ID
  • Passport
  • Immigrant work papers

Contact the jail to see what other if any forms of ID it accepts if you do not have any of the above.

Expect to be run for Warrants

Many jails run every visitor’s ID through a nationwide database for warrants. If an active arrest warrant is found, you will be taken into custody during your visit. If you are aware you have an active warrant anywhere, consult with a criminal defense attorney before attempting to visit an inmate in jail.

Expect to Sign in

You will need to arrive prior to the visitation time. This is so you can check in. Some jails require you to pre-register by phone or online, others simply ask you to fill out a visitation form each time you arrive for a visit.

Expect Searches

You will go through a metal detector and possibly a pat down if you are going to see your inmate face-to-face. If the visit will be on a computer monitor or behind plexi-glass you might not have to do this.

You can also expect your purse to be searched if they allow you to bring it with you to the visit. Most facilities require you to leave it in the car or in a provided locker at the jail.

Expect to Wait

This is especially true if visitation is on a first-come, first-served basis. If there is a block of time, such as 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. for visitation and everyone shows up at the same time they have to process you all at once and then let a few visit at a time. You might have to wait awhile before you are called in to visit.

Expect to be Recorded

If the visit is conducted on a monitor or behind plexi-glass with a telephone handset to talk, you and the inmate’s entire conversation will be recorded. Anything said can be used against your inmate by prosecutors. Even if it is a face-to-face visit, don’t discuss anything that could be used in court.

Expect Emotions

The first visit can cause a roller coaster of emotions. You might feel anxious, anger, joy, fear and confusion as you and your inmate come to terms with the arrest and the ripple effect it has caused. Whatever you are feeling is normal and as you work through these emotions you will get a better handle on them.

Final thoughts: While visiting a jail is inconvenient and somewhat intrusive, being able to see for yourself that your loved one is okay makes it worthwhile.

 

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writes about inmates, jails, prisons, courts and the lives of people who live and work within the United States Criminal Justice System. His mission can be summed up in a single word; transparency.