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 their legal spouse. The parties may engage in sexual activity. 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, and 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. Other jurisdictions, including Western Australia and Queensland, do not permit conjugal visits.
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 for 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 are permissible. The State Prison of East Jutland 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.
In 2015, the Punjab and Haryana High Court held that the right of married convicts and jail inmates to have conjugal visits or artificial insemination for pregnancy was a fundamental right.
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 who receive prison furloughs are not eligible for conjugal visits. Conjugal visits can be withheld on security grounds or as a means of punishment for misbehavior. IPS guidelines were clarified in July 2013 to allow conjugal visits of same-sex partners.
According to Olivero, conjugal visits are a universal practice in Mexico, independent of a prisoner's marital status; in some correctional facilities entire families are allowed to live in prisons with their imprisoned relative for extended periods. 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 does not permit conjugal visits.
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.
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.
Since April 2013, Turkish General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Houses offers conjugal visits as a "reward" to the well-behaved prisoners.
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.
The first state to implement conjugal visits was Mississippi in the Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman). It was enacted to convince black male prisoners to work harder in their manual labor. Jorja Leap, a professor of social welfare at the Luskin School of Public Affairs at the University of California, Los Angeles stated that criminologists believe allowing conjugal visits would build family ties and reduce recidivism. Over the last 40 years, most new prisons included special buildings specifically designed for "Sunday visits."
By the early 1990s, 17 states had conjugal programs. According to Leap, conjugal visits declined after an increase in attitudes that prison should be a place for punishment and that conjugal visits were not appropriate for people being punished, and also because academic literature in the 1980s and 1990s argued that it was not possible to rehabilitate some criminals.
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.
As of 2008, 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.
In April 2011, New York adopted legislation to allow family visits for currently married or civil-union same-sex partners. In January 2014, the head of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, Chris Epps, terminated the state conjugal program. New Mexico announced it was also ending its program in May 2014. The states with conjugal visits are California, Connecticut, New York and Washington.
- Same-sex conjugal visit, in the article LGBT people in prison
- Relationships for incarcerated individuals
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