Visiting An Inmate for the First Time
It is essential to stay in touch with a loved one incarcerated in a correctional facility to keep your relationship alive and boost their mental health. One of the best ways to foster this connection and bring a smile to their faces is by visiting them in person. This face-to-face interaction goes a long way in reminding incarcerated individuals that they are not alone and keep these bonds alive. However, visiting an incarcerated loved one is not as simple and fast as you might think. There exist several protocols and procedures one must follow to be able to visit.
Whenever you are preparing to visit an incarcerated individual for the first time, there are things you must know. It would be best if you arrived at the facility fully prepared since any fault could result in the correctional facility denying your visit. Most people have to travel for long hours to visit an inmate; you would not want to waste a whole day and get disappointed. Therefore, it is advisable to get a good grasp of visitation rules and guidelines before the visit.
It is essential to note that some states allow special visits. What is a Special Visit in prison? Typically, these are conjugal visitations.
Things to Know when Visiting an Inmate for the First Time
Typically, nothing is universal amongst prison systems since every facility has its rules and operation systems. Therefore, if it is your first time visiting an inmate, here are some things you need to know:
Although not all facilities require you to fill out an application, most prisons do. Typically, a visiting application is a questionnaire you must complete with your name, address, and other questions, such as if you have been convicted before, incarcerated or worked with the Correction Department. It would be best if you answered these questions truthfully since the authorities will utilize this data to perform a background check on you and decide whether you will be approved or denied the visitation.
In some cases, a correctional facility will deny you a visit. Some of the reasons for this include:
- You are a convicted felon
- You have outstanding warrants
- If you provide false information on the application form
- If you have served time in prison
- If you have been an employee at a designated Department of Corrections
- You have a restraining order out against you or the offender
- If deemed a security risk to the facility
- If you are on probation or parole
- If you are already on another inmate’s visitation list
Most correctional institutions do not inform potential visitors of their application status. In most cases, the inmate is solely responsible for letting you know if you were approved or denied. For this reason, you must maintain constant communication with them. If you are denied visitation, most states allow the public to process appealing this decision. Usually, you must file this appeal within a specified period.
Double Check the Schedule before Visiting a Prisoner
Visiting schedules are often highly confusing since not every offender is available during visitation days and times. Some correctional institutions may rotate their schedules based on housing units and others on inmate ID numbers. There are numerous reasons why visitation schedules can change at any given time. Therefore, it is advisable always to double-check these schedules before you leave for the facility. Additionally, it is a good idea to call the designated prison before leaving to ensure that the facility is not on lockdown.
Remember, facilities may cancel visitation without notice. They can cancel due to lockdowns, as mentioned above if an offender has escaped, or for any other reason, a facility deems necessary. Additionally, a facility may suspend visiting privileges if an offender is in solitary confinement or what some facilities call “the hole.”
After knowing the visiting hours and planning the day you will leave, you must ensure you have the proper identification. All corrections departments tend to vary differently in the identification they accept. However, most prisons require you to provide a valid state-issued photo ID or photo driver’s license.
Most jails and prisons have a strict dress code for any visitors visiting inmates. Usually, a general rule is to avoid see-through, tight-fitting, and midriff-baring clothes. Always avoid ripped jeans and shorts, and always wear closed-toed shoes. Additionally, you must wear undergarments and shoes. It is essential to avoid any clothing that is considered gang-related. Furthermore, make sure to avoid wearing clothes of the same color as the offenders. Usually, information regarding their colors and particular dress codes is available on the designated facility’s website.
Some of these rules and regulations are up to the interpretation of the guard on duty, who can decide what visitors can wear. You should bring a change of clothing and leave it in the car. You can change if the authorities deem, you’re dressing in violation of the accepted codes.
Visiting with Kids
Suppose you are visiting with kids or minors, you may have to fill out a special visitation with minors authorization form. Typically, if they are over a particular age, mostly 14, they must have a school-issued photo ID or birth certificate to accompany them to visit an inmate. All facilities prohibit children or minors from visiting alone. A parent or guardian must always accompany them.
Additionally, some incarcerated offenders are not allowed to receive minors if incarcerated for an offense against a child. Small children or infants may require their birth certificates for entry. However, authorities are usually more lenient toward kids. On the other hand, they are strict about children’s behavior during visitation. They will often remove you from the visitation area if you fail to control your child or keep their behavior in check.
Arrive Early and Expect Searches
Correctional facilities do not play when it comes to time. Every event and activity is always on a strict and tight schedule, and you cannot afford to be late. Suppose you do not show up within the registration time, you will not be allowed to visit. Always know the processing times in advance, so you can estimate when you are supposed to be at the facility.
Additionally, there is a likely chance that the visiting room will be packed and busy. Therefore, arriving early at the facility is essential if you want to reap the most from your visit. Give yourself an extra 15 to 20 minutes to fill out the usual paperwork. Always expect to be searched before entering the facility and visitation area. All visitors are subject to a search, including young children. For this reason, you may consider visiting alone, without bringing children, so you can explain what to expect.
Once you enter the facility, except that the guards will search you and check your belongings. Usually, searches include a pat down by a corrections officer of the same gender as the visitor. They are also likely to pass you through a metal detector. Apart from the pat and metal detector searches, some facilities can also use dogs. People who refuse to undergo this search may be denied visits.
It is important to note that in some cases, visitors must consent to a strip search as a condition for visiting. In this case, an individual can refuse but will not be denied visitation. However, strip searches are rarely required and should not deter family and friends from visiting. Some correctional institutions initially used ion scanners that usually picked small particles of drugs being present. These scanners often gave false positives, and visitors had to be strip searched because of it; that is why they are no longer used as much. Dogs are much more reliable at finding contraband.
Many facilities are embracing K-9 dogs for drug searches. If they have a reason to believe that you are carrying contraband to the facility, the guards will detain and search you further. Anyone caught trying to carry electronics or drugs into a correctional institution will most often be arrested and could face felony charges.
This usually differs from facility to facility. Some facilities allow you to bring inmate essentials during visitation, where you can rent a locker and store your belongings. On the other hand, some prisons prohibit items. Generally, most prisons allow visitors to bring their ID, eyeglasses, single car key, and small bills or change for the vending machines, usually in the visitation rooms.
If you have a small child or infant, you are permitted to bring a diaper and a single bottle when visiting. Generally, all visitors prohibit visitors from bringing cigarettes, medication, or any illegal substance. The latter can lead to immediate revocation of visiting privileges and possible criminal charges.
You must carry the few approved items in a clear plastic bag, including the baby items. Note that the security guards cannot see everything at all times. That is why everything must be in clear bags that will be searched.
Make Good Use of the Short Time
All visits are usually very limited in time and frequency; use this time to discuss the essential things. Always avoid sensitive topics and focus on what the offender wants to discuss. The best way to start is by sharing positive things in your life, such as good grades and promotions. One of the most fundamental ways of showing an inmate that they are loved is by showing up during visiting days.
Additionally, always lend a comforting listening ear to your loved one. Remember, your loved one in jail may not have an outlet for personal thoughts during incarceration.