A conjugal visit is a scheduled period in which an inmate of a prison or jail is permitted to spend several hours or days in private with a visitor, usually his/her legal spouse. The parties may engage in sexual intercourse. The generally recognized basis for permitting such visits in modern times is to preserve family bonds and increase the chances of success for a prisoner's eventual return to life after release from prison. Additionally, they serve as an incentive to motivate inmates to comply with the various day-to-day rules and regulations of the prison, to avoid any infringement which might disqualify them from having a conjugal visit.
The visit will usually take place in designated rooms or a structure provided for that purpose, such as a trailer or a small cabin. Supplies such as soap, condoms, lubricant, bed linens, and towels may be provided.
In Australia, conjugal visits are permitted in the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria.
In Canada, all inmates, with the exception of those on disciplinary restrictions or at risk for family violence, are permitted "private family visits" of up to 72 hours' duration once every two months. Eligible visitors, who may not themselves be prison inmates, are: spouse, or common-law partner of at least six months; children; parents; foster parents; siblings; grandparents; and "persons with whom, in the opinion of the institutional head, the inmate has a close familial bond". Food is provided by the institution but paid by the inmates and visitors, who are also responsible for cleaning the unit after the visit. During a visit, staff members have regular contact with the inmate and visitors.
In Denmark, conjugal visits have been allowed for years[vague]. The prison in Jutland "Statsfængslet Østjylland" (East Jutland State Prison) has apartments for couples, where inmates who have been sentenced to more than 8 years in prison can have visitation for 47 hours per visit.
Germany allows prisoners and their spouses or partners to apply for conjugal visits. Those who are approved are allowed unsupervised visits so that prisoners can preserve intimate bonds with loved ones on the outside. However, prisoners are searched before being allowed a visit. In 2010, an inmate murdered his girlfriend and attempted suicide during a visit, leading to additional criticism of the allegedly lax security in German prisons.
Republic of Ireland
Marie and Noel Murray, an anarchist married couple imprisoned for a 1976 murder, lost a 1991 appeal for conjugal rights. The Supreme Court ruled that the Constitutional right to beget children within marriage was suspended while a spouse was lawfully imprisoned.
The Israel Prison Service (IPS) allows standard conjugal visits to inmates who are married or are in a common-law relationship in which their partner has been visiting them for at least two years, and have been on good behavior. Inmates eligible for prison furloughs are not allowed conjugal visits, and requests for conjugal visits can be rejected on security grounds. Conjugal visits can also be withheld as a means of punishment. The IPS has five conjugal visit facilities, all of which are single-story buildings located outside the common prison blocs. IPS guidelines were clarified in July 2013 to allow conjugal visits of same-sex as well as opposite-sex partners.
Specifically in Mexico City, in July 2007, the prison system in that city has begun to allow gay prisoners to have conjugal visits from their partners, on the basis of a 2003 law which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.
New Zealand has recently amended its marriage legislation and extended that to same sex couples. It is unclear at this stage whether conjugal visits will be allowed in respect of homosexual males or lesbian females.
In the Russian penal system, since a campaign of prison reform that began in 2001, well-behaved prisoners are granted an eighteen-day holiday furlough from incarceration to see loved ones. Prisoners also get extended on-site family visits, approximately once per month.
According to Islamic Sharia Laws, conjugal visits are permitted in Saudi Arabia. Pursuant to Ministerial decision by MOI, married prisoners are allowed, whether male or female, for one conjugal visit per month for monogamous and two visits for bigamous male.
In Spain, prisoners are allowed conjugal visits every four to eight weeks. They are held in private rooms and can last up to three hours. Couples are provided with condoms, shower facilities, and clean towels.
Neither the English, Welsh, Scottish, nor Northern Irish prison systems allow conjugal visits. However, home visits, with a greater emphasis on building other links with the outside world to which the prisoner will be returned, are allowed. These home visits are usually only granted to prisoners who have a few weeks to a few months remaining of a long sentence. Furthermore, home visits are more likely to be granted if the prisoner is deemed to have a low risk of absconding i.e. prisoners being held in open prisons have a better chance of being granted home visits than prisoners being held in closed conditions.
In Lyons v. Gilligan (1974), the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio held that the prisoners have no constitutional right to conjugal visits with their spouses during sentences.
The United States Federal Bureau of Prisons does not allow conjugal visits for prisoners in federal custody. For prisoners in state custody, the availability of conjugal visits is governed by the law of the particular state. Where conjugal visits are allowed, inmates must meet certain requirements to qualify for this privilege:
The visitor may be required to undergo a background check, and the inmate must also be free of any sexually transmitted diseases. As a matter of procedure, both visitor and inmate are searched before and after the visit, to ensure that the visitor has not attempted to smuggle any items into or out of the facility.
Over the last 40 years, most new prisons included special buildings specifically designed for "Sunday visits." Today, conjugal visitation programs are now known as the extended-family visits or family-reunion visits because mothers, fathers, and other family members may attend these visits. The focus is on family ties and rehabilitation. They survive in five states: California, Connecticut, New Mexico, New York, and Washington.
In June 2007, the California Department of Corrections announced it would allow same-sex conjugal visits. The policy was enacted to comply with a 2005 state law requiring state agencies to give the same rights to domestic partners that heterosexual couples receive. The new rules allow for visits only by registered married same sex couples or domestic partners who are not themselves incarcerated. Further, the same sex marriage or domestic partnership must have been established before the prisoner was incarcerated.
In April 2011, New York adopted legislation to allow family visits for currently married or civil-union same-sex partners. In January 2014, Mississippi terminated its conjugal program.
- Hopper, Columbus B. (September 1962). "The Conjugal Visit at Mississippi State Penitentiary". The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science (Northwestern University) 53 (3): 340–343. doi:10.2307/1141470. JSTOR 1141470.
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