The reach of human rights does not end at the prison gates. After all, the primary goal of a healthy corrections system is the rehabilitation and successful reintegration of inmates into society.
That said, some rights remain controversial among legislators, prison reform advocates, and concerned citizens.
One such right is the right to conjugal visits. Some consider a marital visitation program as an inmate’s privilege. Others think it is an extension of their fundamental human rights.
The United States criminal justice system believes that conjugal visitation is a privilege to offenders and a right of their spouses.
Even though conjugal visitations play a crucial role in the lives of inmates and their loved ones, very few incarcerated persons can access them.
Say you or your spouse is in a correctional institution. In that case, you may find the sections below regarding conjugal visitation helpful in understanding the potential benefits and drawbacks of such visits for you and your family.
Additionally, you may learn more about the rules and procedures of conjugal visits. Our online site, LookUpInmate.org, contains detailed information regarding the state’s provisions for married inmates.
We also offer a free search tool to locate inmates in correctional facilities in the U.S.
Pros of Conjugal Visits
Generally, arguments favoring conjugal prison visits hinge on the program’s practical benefits to the inmates, their spouses, and prison facilities. Below are 11 potential advantages of conjugal visits.
Conjugal Visits Encourage Good Behavior
Whether an inmate receives a conjugal visit often depends on how well they behave in the penitentiary.
Prison governors use a “carrot and stick” (reward and punishment) approach to regulate inmates’ behavior.
Conjugal visits are one such carrot to keep incarcerated people following the facility’s rules. An inmate who misbehaves will likely not have in-person contact with their family.
The extended family visit is an effective motivator. Inmates have something to anticipate. After visits, they are more stable mentally. Their families also give moral support and help them stay on track.
Conjugal Visits Strengthen Familial Bonds
One of the most difficult challenges inmates face is their families falling apart. They will likely recidivate (reoffend) without solid social support when they get out.
Conjugal visits let offenders spend time with their spouses, hopefully keeping their marriages intact. Spending time together is particularly important in families with children.
The benefits do not only extend to the inmate. Studies show that conjugal visits support family cohesion.
Conjugal Visits Make Prison Life Safer
Most long-term prison inmates seek ways to gain privileges like conjugal visits. Consequently, they must refrain from harassing other prisoners, getting into fights, provoking violence, selling drugs, and other criminal activities.
Research from Florida International University indicated that prison systems allowing conjugal visits have fewer rapes and sexual assaults than those prohibiting such visits.
Reduced sex crimes have the extra benefit of decreasing the transmission of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), like HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and HIV’s late-stage form, AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
Conjugal Visits Results in Fewer Repeat Offenders
Since inmates can preserve family ties, they are likelier to live a healthy family life after release.
One study from the Journal of Criminal Justice showed that receiving visitation led to a 26% decrease in recidivism.
Visits with family strengthen bonds and give incarcerated individuals a reason to live after their release.
Conjugal Visits Offer Much-Needed Privacy
One of the most frustrating aspects of correctional facilities is the lack of privacy. In most cases, inmates must sleep and share the bathroom with their cellmates. Sometimes, they even shower in front of the correctional officers. Cameras and guards constantly observe their movements.
Spending time alone with your spouse, even briefly, might help improve inmates’ emotional and mental health.
Conjugal Visits Reduce Sexual Violence
Sexual violence includes various forms of abuse, such as rape, harassment, and sexual assault.
As shown above, conjugal visits can help reduce sexual violence in the prison setting. The states that do not allow conjugal visitation have a high sexual violence incidence rate.
In contrast, the region that allows conjugal visits has a lower rate of sexual crimes.
These outcomes suggest that conjugal and family visits can help reduce sex offenses in prison and the community.
Conjugal Visits Reduce the Risk of Sexually Transmitted Diseases
One of the most notable benefits of conjugal visits is protection from STDs, including HIV, chlamydia, and genital herpes.
Engaging in sexual relations with multiple partners can increase the chances of acquiring infectious diseases like HIV.
Conjugal Visits Reduce Recidivism
Recidivism refers to the tendency of the offender to repeat a crime. As mentioned above, conjugal visits help reduce the recidivism rate.
A simple explanation is that extended family visits remind the inmate that there’s life awaiting them beyond the prison bars.
These in-person meetings reinforce in their minds the thought that committing another crime is not worth sacrificing time with family.
Conjugal Visits Can Also Include Other Family Members
Visits do not just affect couples. Family visits also let inmates spend time with their children in less crowded areas. In some cases, grandparents, siblings, and cousins can all participate.
You’re Not Only Punishing Prisoners
Inmates aren’t the only ones who suffer from the lack of conjugal visits. Institutions that prohibit this type of visit as a punishment are also punishing the inmates’ spouses and children who did nothing wrong.
Some argue that this prohibition removes the inmate’s and their spouse’s reproductive rights.
Inmates Are Allowed to Keep Their Roles As Husbands or Wives
This advantage is critical for the family’s well-being. Prison can end the male inmate’s identity as a husband or the female inmate’s identity as a wife.
Conjugal visits help preserve the familial structure and stability of the incarcerated person and their spouse.
By recognizing and affirming their marital roles, conjugal visits contribute to rehabilitation by fostering responsibility, commitment, and accountability among inmates. This outcome can aid the inmate’s successful reintegration into society after release.
Cons of Conjugal Visits
Arguments against conjugal visitations often highlight the prison system’s lack of the budget and security level to facilitate this type of visit.
Below are nine potential drawbacks of conjugal visits.
There Are Some Safety Concerns
Although conjugal visits are a family affair, they can be relatively unsafe due to the lack of supervision in the visitation area. Still, some argue that criminal cases happening during visits are rare and should not drive public policy.
Conjugal Visits Are a Source of Contraband
People coming in from the outside to see their loved ones might smuggle illegal items, including drugs or concealed weapons.
That said, tight security often makes it difficult for inmates to smuggle items. While some facilities do not check visitors during visits, they might still subject the offenders to strip-search and drug tests.
Visits Are Not Entirely ‘Private’
Even though conjugal visits are primarily private, it does not mean daily prison routines do not take place. For example, prisoners must respond to routine ‘call-outs’ at their scheduled time. Guards checking in can also quickly ruin the mood if things get intimate.
Carrying Prohibited Items Poses a Risk
As indicated above, visits could be a risk for illicit activity. Visitors can bring illegal or banned items, including narcotics and weapons, guns, and other sharp objects that could injure fellow inmates.
Possible Escape Attempts
Officials cite escape attempts as one primary reason to end conjugal visits. They argue that some inmates take the opportunity to make escape plans. Consequently, some jurisdictions have discontinued the practice.
Risk of STDs
Though visits tend to decrease sexual violence, STDs remain a concern for some whenever sex is involved. These critics think inmates might bring STDs into prison with them.
Risk of Increased Cases of Pregnant Women and More Major Single Parents
Female inmates or visitors can become pregnant even after being supplied with contraceptives. This scenario can result in another single mother if the father is incarcerated for life.
The Programs Are Expensive
Many of the issues with conjugal visits are likely deflections from the most probable reason facilities end the program: lack of funds.
Several states have shut down these programs due to their high costs. Private spaces consume a lot of resources and space. The impulse to remove these programs may result from many prisons operating on low budgets.
What Is a Conjugal Visit?
Simply put, conjugal visitation refers to the visit by the husband or wife for a scheduled period to their incarcerated husband or wife. During this time, the couple receives limited privacy. Usually, this private moment involves sexual relations.
Inmates and visitors must submit applications to the prison system authorities to arrange an extended family or conjugal visit.
Here are the typical rules regarding such visitations:
- The requesting inmate should have a decent prison record and no violent offenses.
- Extended family visits often do not apply to inmates confined to low-security facilities.
- Institutions do not allow convicted individuals who received sentences for child abuse or domestic violence conjugal visits.
Additionally, state or federal prisons determine eligible visitors. The visitor is usually a family member, has a record of inmate visitation to the facility (or a legitimate reason for not doing so), and must pass a background check.
Conjugal Visit: An Emerging Human Right
As indicated above, many people today view spousal visitation as an extension of the spouse’s conjugal rights.
While the visitation program is technically not a right, many countries today allow inmates extended, in-person contact with their loved ones.
Aside from the U.S., countries that allow conjugal visits may include the following:
- Saudi Arabia
However, countries allowing conjugal visitations are rare, and most do not welcome extended family visits.
The U.S. is not the only country becoming more restrictive regarding conjugal visits. Northern Island and Great Britain have also restricted such visits.
That said, these countries permit home visits, emphasizing contact with the outside world to which the inmate will eventually return.
In addition, authorities often grant home visits to inmates with a few weeks to a few months remaining of a long sentence.
Meanwhile, countries like Germany allow conjugal visits following an extensive screening process.
Sex, Love, and Marriage Behind Bars
As expected, conjugal visits provoke discussion around the complex relationship of sex, love, and marriage behind bars.
Advocates argue that these visits can improve bonds between inmates and reduce recidivism rates, allowing them to develop stronger bonds.
In contrast, critics express concerns regarding the potential for exploitation, security threats, and the cost of facilitating intimate encounters for incarcerated persons.
Excellent institutions find the intricate balance between human rights, rehabilitation initiatives, and the practical realities of managing correctional systems.
Some incarcerated individuals use the metaphor of “heaven” to depict the profound sense of ease and happiness they encounter when they can physically reconnect with their spouse during conjugal visits.
The joy of companionship, intimacy, and touch with the opposite sex is so rare that inmates go to great lengths to avoid conflict and bad encounters.
Their Dark Origins
Conjugal visits may have originated in 1918 at Parchman Farm, a boot camp in Mississippi.
Such visitations were a haphazard, paternalistic reward system for Black prisoners. Specifically, these visits mean these people may have sexual intercourse on a given Sunday in exchange for their hard work in prison.
This way, the concept of conjugal visits derives from racist premises.
For instance, prison administrators believed allowing Black individuals to participate in lawful sexual activities would increase their productivity.
The officers also believed Black men had higher sex drives than white men. Consequently, buses packed with women arrived every weekend to get intimate with the Black offenders.
Authorities used conjugal visits to “support” Black inmates through a six-day workweek of physically and mentally demanding work.
However, due to various advocacy groups, conjugal visits now last longer with the family.
Even the Parchman Farm improved during the 1960s. For example, institutions allowed frequent visits, initiated furlough programs, and built cabins so inmates could spend time alone with their spouses.
A Misconception With Conjugal Visits
Conjugal visits are more than just sexual encounters and “family visits,” meaning children can stay overnight.
For instance, a spouse or partner in Connecticut cannot enter the facility without the inmate’s child.
In the state, approximately a third of lengthy visits are between spouses.
Are Conjugal Visits Beneficial?
The answer to this question depends on what factor you emphasize. If the prison system is not corrupt and the inmate complies with visitation conditions, the program will likely produce favorable outcomes.
Overall, research is still ongoing regarding the effectiveness of conjugal visits.
How Many States Still Allow Conjugal Visits? What States in the U.S. Allow Conjugal Visits?
Today, only four states have rules that allow extended visits: New York, Washington, California, and Connecticut.
However, each state in the United States has various rules regarding conjugal visitations, or “extended family visits.”
A 1981 report stated that the following states were the only regions in the U.S. that had conjugal visitation programs for inmates:
Following the report, various states changed their position regarding conjugal visits. For instance, at the beginning of 2000, South Carolina and Minnesota were off the list, and New Mexico and Connecticut had extended visitation policies.
However, despite being the first state to initiate conjugal visitation programs in the U.S., the Department of Corrections in Mississippi ended the privilege in 2016.
Do You Get Conjugal Visits on Death Row?
Death row inmates have no right to conjugal visits, even in states that do it for other convicts.
For example, California’s state prisons only allow “condemned” (incarcerated people on death row) visits using a secured booth and always require the incarcerated individual to be escorted and handcuffed.
Some of these incarcerated persons on death row may only receive non-contact visits.
1. Conjugal Visitation: Prisoner’s Privilege or Spouse’s Right https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/conjugal-visitation-prisoners-privilege-or-spouses-right 2. Benefits and risks of conjugal visits in prison: A systematic literature review https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/cbm.2215 3. Research Finds that Conjugal Visits Correlate with Fewer Sexual Assaults https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2014/may/19/research-finds-conjugal-visits-correlate-fewer-sexual-assaults/ 4. The effect of prison visitation on reentry success: A meta-analysis https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0047235216300575 5. Evolution of Conjugal Visiting in Mississippi https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/evolution-conjugal-visiting-mississippi 6. Conjugal Visits https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/02/11/conjugal-visits 7. This Couple Wants You to Know That Conjugal Visits are Only Legal in 4 States https://scalawagmagazine.org/2022/06/conjugal-visits/ 8. Conjugal Visitation in American Prisons Today https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/conjugal-visitation-american-prisons-today 9. Mississippi First to Begin Conjugal Visits, Latest to End Them https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2016/jan/11/mississippi-first-begin-conjugal-visits-latest-end-them/ 10. Types of Visits https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/visitors/types-of-visits/