What's The Deal With Conjugal Visits In Prison?

The phrase "conjugal visits" is being phased out; prisons now refer to the time using such terms as "extended family visits" or "family reunion program."

Photo by: American flag behind razor wire [Pexels]

American flag behind razor wire [Pexels]

By: Catherine Townsend

When we hear the phrase "conjugal visits," most of us picture prisoners having nonstop gratuitous sex.

But while conjugal visits can involve inmates spending intimate time with their significant other, the visits were actually started with the goal of preserving families.

Not all conjugal visits involve sex.

The phrase "conjugal visits" is being phased out; prisons now refer to the time using such terms as "extended family visits" or "family reunion program."

The prisons who keep the programs in place state that allowing prisoners time with their family members encourages good behavior and will give them a greater chance of success when they re-enter society.

In New York, only around half of these visits involved spouses, according to The New York Times. In addition to their legal spouse, inmates can usually be visited by their children or other immediate family member or partner.

The visits usually take place in designated area, such as a trailer or a small cabin. Amenities like towels and soap — and extras like G-rated DVDs — are often provided.

Only four states still allow them.

As recently as 1995, 17 states had conjugal visit programs — but today, only four states still allow them. They are California, New York, Connecticut, and Washington.

Some believe that the decline is due to shifting public opinion and the fact that many people do not believe that prisoners should be allowed "luxuries."

Sometimes the programs are axed after bad press: New Mexico cancelled conjugal visits in 2014 following a news report that a convicted killer had fathered four children with multiple women while behind bars. Members of the public were outraged by the idea that criminals, including convicted rapists, could be allowed to father children — without having to pay child support — while behind bars.

But many experts say that there is another, more practical, reason for ending conjugal visits: Budget cuts.

The system began with an extremely racist premise.

The very first prison to allow conjugal visits was Parchman Farm, which is now known as Mississippi State Penitentary. Parchman Farm began as a labor prison camp for Black men in Mississippi.

Prison authorities reportedly believed that if Black men were allowed to have sexual intercourse, they would be more productive. So every weekend, women would be driven in by the bus load to fraternize with the prisoners.

Over the years, the program was modified to incorporate families, and cabins were built. Mississippi is one of the states that eventually ended conjugal visits, however.

Different states have different rules.

Some concepts are universal: In general, inmates must earn the right to conjugal visits through good behavior.

Conjugal visits are usually only allowed in medium security or lower prisons, and are now allowed for prisoners convicted of sexual assaults. But each state has its own rules: Only New York and California, for example, allow same-sex conjugal visits. And in Connecticut, according to Thrillist, a spouse or partner is required to visit with the inmate's child.

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Read more: Dopplr, Thrillist