Prison Marriage

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Traditionally, the joyous occasion of uniting with another person occurs in various enchanting locations, from picturesque churches and scenic outdoor settings to elegant hotels and intimate courthouses.

However, not all unions are forged in such idyllic settings. Some couples exchange their vows and begin their journey of love and commitment within the gloomy confines of prison walls.

You may face several challenges and considerations when marrying an incarcerated individual due to potential restrictions imposed by correctional facilities in the United States.

In other words, you may have a wedding ceremony with no cake, potentially no guests, no honeymoon escape to a tropical destination, and wearing less-than-desirable wedding attire.

This article explores the concept of marrying someone in jail, discusses the unique challenges you may encounter on your wedding day, and answers questions that may help you navigate the prison system.

If you want additional information on a specific correctional institution, such as its eligibility requirements and guidelines on prison marriage, visit LookUpInmate.org.

Marriage – Marrying a Prisoner

You can marry a person serving time in the United States. The U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) honor prisoners’ rights to wed their significant others.

However, there are intricacies involved when marrying someone in jail. You must meet eligibility requirements and guidelines, such as the intended spouse verifying their intention to marry and that the marriage won’t threaten institutional security and the general public.

Why Do People Marry People in Jail?

People marry individuals in jail for various reasons. While it may seem unconventional to some, compelling factors motivate people to enter such marriages.

Here are some critical reasons why individuals marry inmates:

  • Emotional support: Marrying an inmate can offer mental health benefits for both parties, as doing so can provide comfort, understanding, and encouragement during the inmate’s challenging period behind bars.

Committing to someone serving time in jail is also a testament to unwavering loyalty. Knowing that a committed partner is waiting for your reunion can foster trust and deepen your connection.

  • Legal rights and benefits: Prison marriages grant legal rights and benefits. For one, a prison marriage may give you special visitation privileges, such as more frequent, extended, and conjugal visits, allowing you to have physical intimacy with an inmate.

A marriage recognized by the correctional institution and the U.S. Supreme Court may also offer you the ability to make medical decisions for your incarcerated spouse, tax reductions, and marriage benefits like child custody and visitation arrangements.

  • Chance for redemption: Marriage can serve as a source of motivation for incarcerated individuals. This encouragement may help lead to personal growth, an essential aspect of rehabilitation.

Your support may inspire a loved one to dream of a life outside of prison, make better choices, and possibly participate in counseling and rehabilitation programs.

Is It a Good Idea to Marry Someone in Prison?

Deciding whether to marry someone in prison is a deeply personal choice. While there are benefits to a prison marriage, there are some downsides you must also consider.

Here are some potential challenges and considerations you must understand before tying the knot with an incarcerated person:

  • Limited communication and physical contact: Marrying inmates means facing restrictions on communication options, such as phone calls, letters, or monitored visits. Additionally, some prisons are replacing in-person visits with video calls.

The prison environment also introduces unique challenges to the marital relationship regarding physical contact. Visitation rules and the absence of conjugal visits can significantly limit your ability to be physically intimate with an inmate spouse.

  • Emotional stress: Having a partner behind bars can be emotionally taxing. Constantly worrying about your loved one’s safety and well-being can lead to heightened stress levels. The emotional rollercoaster of loneliness, frustration, and anxiety can affect both spouses’ mental health.

Uncertainties involving release dates, parole decisions, and changing circumstances can also introduce further instability into your relationship. The lack of control over the reunification timeline can emotionally tax you and your prisoner spouse.

  • Financial strain: Supporting an incarcerated spouse can burden the non-incarcerated partner financially. Costs associated with phone calls, visitation, legal fees, and providing for the inmate’s needs can accumulate over time.

While many federal and state prisons offer employment opportunities for inmates, the monetary compensation may not be enough, requiring the non-incarcerated spouse to shoulder the family’s financial responsibilities.

  • Impact on your children: The absence of one parent due to incarceration can create an unstable family environment. Children with an incarcerated parent often experience mental problems like low self-esteem and depression.

Having a spouse in prison may also subject your children to social stigma and increase their chances of facing adverse childhood experiences, such as violence or exposure to drugs and alcohol abuse.

How to Marry a Prisoner

Marrying a prisoner requires following specific procedures and obtaining necessary permits. While the process can vary depending on the correctional facility, it involves the following steps:

  • Obtaining a marriage license: If your other half’s prison allows prison weddings, you must complete a marriage request. Ask the warden or the prison officials for a Marriage Application Form and fill in all the required details.
  • Submitting your marriage application: Once the non-inmate party submits the marriage request, an officiant will review it to ensure both parties are eligible and all information is accurate. The form is then mailed back to the prison, where a chaplain will review the application further.
  • Waiting for authorization: The correctional facility will ensure your marriage follows all applicable laws and regulations. At this point, it’s a waiting game for marriage permission. Unfortunately, this can take a few weeks to a couple of months.

Planning the Prison Wedding

Once the prison officials approve the wedding, it’s now time to plan your wedding. Unfortunately, it may not be your dream wedding, as you must follow some guidelines and restrictions.

Here are some critical considerations for planning the wedding:

  • Officiant: The most essential aspect of the wedding is the presence of an officiant. However, some correctional facilities may not allow outside officiants. At the same time, other prisons may connect you with a U.S. Department of Corrections (DOC)-approved officiant.
  • Witnesses: In some states, you don’t need a witness for a prison marriage. Conversely, other correctional institutions require you to use prison officials or other inmates as witnesses.
  • Attire: Sadly, traditional wedding attire, such as low-cut necklines and sleeveless items, may not be possible in a prison wedding. In some cases, correctional facilities may not allow inmates to change attire, forcing them to attend the ceremony in their prison clothes.

The rules for a prison wedding can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. LookUpInmate.org gives you access to inmate information from more than 7,000 correctional facilities so that you can determine what specific restrictions and regulations your ceremony must adhere to.

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for marriage or state-registered domestic partnership within the prison system, inmates must meet specific requirements outlined by the DOC.

  • Duration of jurisdiction: Inmates must be under the jurisdiction of the DOC for at least a year before initiating the prison marriage process.
  • Restriction on segregation: Inmates in Intensive Management Units (IMUs) or Close Observation Areas, such as solitary confinement or death row, cannot initiate the marriage application.
  • Permission for boarders: If your incarcerated loved one is in a facility outside their home county or state, you’ll need permission from the Out-of-State Department or the Regional Director of the BOP to proceed with the application.
  • Legal eligibility: You and your intended spouse must be eligible to marry, such as meeting the legal age requirement, having valid identification like a birth certificate, and satisfying residency requirements.

Marriage/Domestic Partner Application

You must complete a marriage or domestic partner application to formalize your prison marriage. This application typically includes personal information, such as names, birthdates, addresses, and the intended wedding date and location.

For a comprehensive guide on completing and submitting your marriage or state-registered domestic partnership application, visit your state and loved one’s facility’s official website through LookUpInmate.org.

Setting the Wedding Date

Once you receive permission from the prison, it’s time to pick a wedding date. Unfortunately, you may need to set it quickly, as some marriage licenses only last for a specific duration.

For instance, Florida marriage requests are only valid for 60 days. You must perform the wedding ceremony before your license’s validity period lapses. Otherwise, you must go through the entire process again and wait for your inmate’s prison to authorize your marriage.

At Last

The day has finally arrived— the wedding day. While emotions may run high as you prepare to exchange vows with your incarcerated partner, following the facility’s guidelines is essential.

Taking pictures during the ceremony within the correctional facility may not be allowed. If the prison enables guests to attend, they must also adhere to the clothing restrictions.

Moreover, some prisons may not allow physical contact. In other words, you and your inmate loved one may be unable to seal your commitment with a kiss.

Fortunately, prison wedding restrictions vary, and if you’re lucky, the correctional facility may give you some concessions. Visit LookUpInmate.org to determine your loved one’s rules regarding what you can and cannot do during a prison marriage.

After the “I Do’s”

Once the wedding ceremony is over, you must understand what you can expect in the aftermath of marrying an inmate.

You might wonder whether you can consummate your union or be granted personal time with your new spouse.

The possibility of a conjugal event occurring depends on the inmate’s behavior and the severity of the crime. For instance, prisons are unlikely to allow a sex offender to have physical contact with non-incarcerated individuals.

Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t entitle inmates to conjugal visitation rights, as it doesn’t consider them to be constitutional freedom for prisoners. If the prison lets you spend a brief period alone with your new spouse, they may supervise the occasion.

A Successful Prison Marriage

Building a successful prison marriage requires more than just mutual faith and support. It necessitates a range of strategies and efforts to maintain a healthy relationship despite the challenges of incarceration.

Here are some additional aspects to consider:

  • Communication: Effective communication is vital in any marriage and becomes even more crucial in a prison marriage. While correctional facilities may limit physical contact, they provide various means of communication, such as phone calls, letters, and visitations.
  • Emotional support: Incarceration can be emotionally challenging for inmates and non-incarcerated spouses. It would be best if you became the emotional bedrock and source of strength for each other, such as offering reassurance, understanding, and empathy.
  • Patience and resilience: Navigating the prison system can be complex, bureaucratic, and time-consuming. There may be delays, setbacks, and unexpected hurdles along the way. Stay positive, as your prisoner spouse may look to you for inspiration.
  • Setting realistic expectations: Understand that the prison environment and post-release challenges may impact your relationship dynamics. Discussing and aligning expectations like roles, responsibilities, and future goals can minimize conflicts.

Same-Sex Marriages

Prison weddings aren’t exclusive to opposite-sex couples, as federal prisons allow same-sex marriages. However, this option may only be available in states that legally authorize and acknowledge same-sex unions.

Prison Marriage After Release

Each year your spouse stays inside the walls of a prison, the chances your marriage ends in divorce increase by around 32%. Unfortunately, the struggles of an inmate marriage don’t end after incarceration.

While various factors like race, securing employment, and criminal history play a role, the chances of an ex-inmate landing back in prison (recidivism rate) in the U.S. is 44%, among the highest worldwide.

Building trust, adjusting to your new roles and responsibilities, and addressing the emotional and lifestyle baggage from a prison marriage requires patience, understanding, and ongoing effort.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. When can you get married in person inside a U.S. institution?

The requirements for an in-person prison wedding vary by state and jurisdiction. Some state-specific marriage licenses have validity periods and may need you to meet residency requirements before getting one.

To get up-to-date information on prison marriage eligibility requirements for federal and state prisons, use LookUpInmate.org’s correctional facility database.

2. How can you get married while in-person visiting is unavailable for your facility?

You can still pursue a prison marriage if your intended spouse’s facility doesn’t allow in-person visitations. One of these options is an online or videoconference marriage. Some states let couples hold a wedding ceremony remotely.

However, you must first inform the prison and ask for permission. If the correctional facility authorizes your marriage, you must complete the same steps similar to an in-person wedding, such as getting a marriage license.

3. Who can attend an in-person marriage ceremony?

The rules regarding who can attend an in-person prison marriage depend on the state and correctional facility. In general, prisons limit in-person wedding ceremonies to the bride, groom, officiant, and sometimes, witnesses.

4. Who can attend the videoconference marriage ceremony?

Whether other people outside the bride and groom can join the prison marriage ceremony depends on the state and jurisdiction’s guidelines. For instance, California only allows up to two witnesses to be present.

5. Can your marriage ceremony be canceled?

You may cancel your marriage ceremony. However, you must understand that some marriage licenses expire, and prisons may have waiting periods.

6. Does everyone have to be an approved visitor to participate in a marriage ceremony?

The correctional facility must approve any visitor who’ll attend a prison marriage, regardless if it’s in-person or remote.

7. Is there a fee for the videoconference?

Fees may be associated with a prison marriage, videoconference, or otherwise. For instance, Pennsylvania has a marriage license fee of $70. Meanwhile, videoconference fees may vary on the state and the correctional facility.

For an in-depth look at prison wedding regulations and restrictions for your intended spouse’s institution, visit LookUpInmate.org and access a database of over 7,000 corrections facilities across the United States.

References

  1. Prisoner Marriages
    https://www.usmarshals.gov/what-we-do/prisoners/
  2. Marriages of Inmates
    https://www.bop.gov/policy/progstat/5326_005.pdf
  3. Behind Bars but Connected to Family: Evidence for the Benefits of Family Contact During Incarceration
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6625803/
  4. 20 Pros and Cons of Marrying an Inmate
    https://www.ablison.com/pros-and-cons-of-marrying-an-inmate/
  5. Can Inmates Get Married In Jail?
    https://www.wkfamilylaw.com/can-inmates-get-married-jail/
  6. Child Custody and Incarceration: Custody Rights When a Parent is in Jail
    https://www.womansdivorce.com/child-custody-and-incarceration.html
  7. When jails replace in-person visits with video, what happens when the technology fails?
    https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2019/06/18/video-failure/
  8. The staggeringly high price of a prison phone call
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/11/30/staggeringly-high-price-prison-phone-call/
  9. WORK ON THE INSIDE
    https://www.bop.gov/jobs/
  10. The health impact on children affected by parental imprisonment
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7047477/
  11. Children of Incarcerated Parents
    https://youth.gov/youth-topics/children-of-incarcerated-parents
  12. How to Officiate a Prison Wedding – Performing an Inmate’s Marriage Ceremony
    https://theamm.org/articles/860-how-to-officiate-a-prison-wedding
  13. Correctional Facility Wedding Planning & Officiants
    http://tdcjofficiant.com/how-to-marry-a-texas-inmate/
  14. Wedding Ceremony
    https://www.marryinjail.com/ceremony.html
  15. Inmate Marriages & Domestic Partnerships
    https://www.doc.wa.gov/corrections/services/marriage.htm
  16. Florida Marriage Guide
    https://www.stateofflorida.com/getting-married-in-florida/
  17. Conjugal Visitation in American Prisons Today
    https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/conjugal-visitation-american-prisons
  18. Dealing with Divorce in Prison
    https://mensdivorce.com/divorce-in-prison/
  19. Recidivism Rate by State
    https://wisevoter.com/state-rankings/recidivism-rates-by-state/
  20. These states are where you can – and can’t – get married online
    https://theamm.org/articles/317-these-states-are-where-you-can
  21. Video and in‑person marriage ceremonies
    https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/covid19/remote-marriage-ceremonies
  22. Marriage Licenses
    https://yorkcountypa.gov/248/Marriage-Licenses

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