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conjugal visit bedeutung

Everything You Should Know About Conjugal Visits in California

May 9, 2024 Written by Jill Harness and Edited by Peter Liss

conjugal visits in california prisons

Conjugal visits are regularly referenced in movies and TV shows ,  but  they  almost seem unreal.  After all, why should people serving time for crimes be allowed to have sex when they’re supposed to be punished? But that’s one of the big misconceptions about what the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation calls “Family Visits.” The official name isn’t just a creative euphemism code for “sex visits” -the real reason the state allows these types of inmate visitation is to provide those behind bars with a way to stay close to their families. “Studies show this kind of visitation program has profound benefits not only to inmates but also to the general public in the form of reduced crime rates and lowered taxes,” explains attorney Peter Liss.

What are Conjugal Visits?

A conjugal visit is where an inmate  has the opportunity to  see their family with some slight level of privacy and intimacy. One of the big misconceptions about these visits is that they are purely designed to allow prisoners to have sex. While that may be how the program started and may be  part  of the experience for married couples, the true purpose of the visits is to allow prisoners the chance to spend time with their families. Notably, in New York, where inmates can visit with extended family members, only 48% of these meetings were with a spouse.

Even when the visit is with a spouse, most inmates say that while the chance to have sex with their partners was  nice , the family visit was more about being intimate with the person they love for anywhere from 30 to 40 hours. Considering that standard prison visits require all conversations to be monitored by guards, and partners are only permitted to kiss at the start and end of the visit, the chance to have private discussions for 24 hours and spend the night in bed together is a welcome change.

The History of Conjugal Visits

Conjugal visits were initially introduced in Mississippi state in the early 1900s. At the time, inmates were essentially just  used as slaves , even physically beaten if they broke the rules or failed to work hard enough.  To provide positive encouragement for those who worked hard and followed the rules , the prison brought prostitutes for the best inmates every Sunday. Eventually, the prison also started allowing prisoners’ wives and girlfriends to visit.

The idea eventually caught on, and over the years, many other states adopted the  idea  of letting wives spend time with their inmate husbands, with over 1/3 of states in the United States eventually enacting some  type of   conjugal  visit program.  Unfortunately, with the push to “get tough on crime” that took place in the 90s, many states got rid of these types of programs, which were seen as “being soft on crime” by giving prisoners “sex visits” when they should be being punished. Nowadays, the only four states that offer conjugal visits are California, Connecticut, New York, and Washington.

Do You Have to be Married for a Conjugal Visit?

“You do not have to be married to qualify for a conjugal visit,” explains Liss, “however, each state offering these programs has a different list of qualifying immediate family members.” Here is how each location defines “immediate family member:”

  • In California,  you do not have to be married for a conjugal visit.  You can spend time with any immediate family member, including  include  spouses, registered domestic partners, siblings, children, or parents.
  • In New York, visitors can be children, spouses, parents, grandparents, or foster parents/legal guardians. Notably, New York does not seem to include domestic partners and married couples must be legally wed for at least six months to qualify for a conjugal visit.
  • In Connecticut, the “extended family visit” must include  a full  family, meaning the inmate’s child must be present and be accompanied by their other parent, legal guardian, or one of the inmate’s parents.
  • In Washington, the term “immediate family” is more expanded than  other  states, as it includes children, stepchildren, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, spouses, registered domestic partners, siblings, parents, stepparents, grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles, and aunts of the incarcerated person.

How do Family Visits Work in California?

Inmates who qualify for family visits can spend up to 40 hours in an apartment located on prison grounds with their immediate family members. These apartments are equipped with toiletries, sheets, and condoms.

Prisoners are allowed no more than four visits per year. “Unfortunately, because of the program’s popularity and the limited number of prison apartment spaces,” explains Liss, “I believe prisoners are more likely to be able to participate only twice a year.”

Visiting family members will not be strip-searched, though the prisoner will. While the visit is mostly unsupervised, the area will be searched as often as every four hours.

Visitors must follow many rules , including what they wear. For example, no one can wear blue jeans, and women cannot wear short dresses,  short  skirts, strapless tops, or form-fitting clothing.

Can Lifers Get Conjugal Visits in California?

Not all prisoners are eligible for the program. Anyone on death row, who is serving a life sentence, or who was convicted of a sex offense is ineligible. Additionally, inmates must have a record of good behavior, and anyone on disciplinary restrictions cannot participate. Those eligible must apply through their correctional counselor.

What are the Benefits to Family Visits?

There are many benefits, but the biggest is a  dramatic reduction in recidivism rates . One study in New Mexico (which recently discontinued conjugal visits) showed that prisoners who participated in extended family visits had 70% less chance of ending up in prison than those who did not participate.

Family visits are, therefore, more effective than education in keeping former felons out of prison. “I believe the effectiveness of these programs is logical, considering they help maintain relationships between inmates and their loved ones,” says Liss. “These relationships are critical in helping convicts readjust to life outside prison after release .”

Though many people consider these programs to be a waste of taxpayer money, it’s been shown that every $1 spent on  education in prisons saves taxpayers $5 annually due to the reduced cost of housing prisoners. “Since visits with family members cost less than education programs and are even more effective at reducing crime rates, maintaining these programs is a no-brainer in my opinion,” Liss says.

Reducing recidivism rates is not the only benefit of conjugal visits. By encouraging prisoners to be good to earn time with their loved ones, prisons can reduce violence and dangers to other inmates and guards -which could further reduce the tax rates associated with incarceration. More savings can also be realized because the more prisoners are model citizens, the more likely they are to be eligible for early release programs, where they can enjoy a complete family reunion outside of the prison.

There is also evidence that conjugal visits reduce prison rape . One study found that sexual violence in prison occurred at a rate of 226 per 100,000 prisoners in states without these programs while occurring at a rate of 57 per 100.000 prisoners in states with family visits.

Another Option for Mothers With Young Children

For most incarcerated persons, conjugal visits are the only way they can see their family outside of visiting hours. However, pregnant women and mothers with children under 6 may meet the requirements for the state’s Community Prisoner Mother Program (CPMP). This program allows mothers to live in a special facility with their child until they are released or until the child turns 6.

Alternative Sentences are Still Preferable

Of course, being allowed to continue living with your family is better than any conjugal visit. Maintaining your family life is much easier if you prove your innocence or are given an  alternative  sentence  ,  such as probation. “Your choice of criminal lawyer makes such a drastic difference in the outcome of your case,” explains Liss. “If you choose me as your attorney, I can help you fight your charges and secure the best possible outcome for your case.” If you have been accused of any crime, please call  (760) 643-4050  to schedule a free initial consultation at the Vista office of Peter M. Liss.

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  • Attorney Peter M. Liss
  • (760) 643-4050
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Copyright 2003, 2024 Peter M. Liss, Esq. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

About the Legal Information on This Website

I rely on my experience as a top defense lawyer in my area to personally review all information on this site; however the information offered here should not substitute as legal advice. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime in Vista, please contact a qualified defense attorney.

Conjugal Visits

Why they’re disappearing, which states still use them, and what really happens during those overnight visits..

Although conjugal, or “extended,” visits play a huge role in prison lore, in reality, very few inmates have access to them. Twenty years ago, 17 states offered these programs. Today, just four do: California, Connecticut, New York, and Washington. No federal prison offers extended, private visitation.

Last April, New Mexico became the latest state to cancel conjugal visits for prisoners after a local television station revealed that a convicted killer, Michael Guzman, had fathered four children with several different wives while in prison. Mississippi had made a similar decision in January 2014.

A Stay at the “Boneyard”

In every state that offers extended visits, good prison behavior is a prerequisite, and inmates convicted of sex crimes or domestic violence, or who have life sentences, are typically excluded.

The visits range from one hour to three days, and happen as often as once per month. They take place in trailers, small apartments, or “family cottages” built just for this purpose, and are sometimes referred to as “ boneyards .” At the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Connecticut, units are set up to imitate homes. Each apartment has two bedrooms, a dining room, and a living room with a TV, DVD player, playing cards, a Jenga game, and dominoes. In Washington, any DVD a family watches must be G-rated. Kitchens are typically fully functional, and visitors can bring in fresh ingredients or cooked food from the outside.

In California, inmates and their visitors must line up for inspection every four hours throughout the weekend visit, even in the middle of the night. Many prisons provide condoms for free. In New Mexico, before the extended visitation program was canceled, the prisoner’s spouse could be informed if the inmate had tested positive for a sexually transmitted infection. After the visit, both inmates and visitors are searched, and inmates typically have their urine tested to check for drugs or alcohol, which are strictly prohibited.

What Everyone Gets Wrong

Conjugal visits are not just about sex. In fact, they are officially called “family visits,” and kids are allowed to stay overnight, too. In Connecticut, a spouse or partner can’t come alone: the child of the inmate must be present. In Washington, two related inmates at the same facility, such as siblings or a father and son, are allowed to arrange a joint visit with family members from the outside. Only about a third of extended visits in the state take place between spouses alone.

The Insider’s Perspective

Serena L. was an inmate at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York from 1999 to 2002. During that time, she qualified for just one overnight trailer visit. Her 15-year-old sister, who lived on Long Island, persuaded a friend to drive her to the prison. “I remember her coming through the gate, carrying two big bags of food, and she said, ‘I got your favorite: Oreos!’ ” Serena says. “It was like a little slumber party for us. When I was first incarcerated, we had tried to write to each other and talk to each other by phone, but there was lots we weren’t really emotionally able to come to terms with until we had that private space, without a CO watching, to do it.”

The (Checkered) History

Conjugal visits began around 1918 at Parchman Farm, a labor camp in Mississippi. At first, the visits were for black prisoners only, and the visitors were local prostitutes, who arrived on Sundays and were paid to service both married and single inmates. According to historian David Oshinsky, Jim Crow-era prison officials believed African-American men had stronger sex drives than whites, and would not work as hard in the cotton fields if they were not sexually sated. The program expanded in the 1940s to include white, male inmates and their wives, and in the 1970s to include female inmates.

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Extending the Ties that Bind: Considering the Implementation of Extended Family Visits in Prisons

Thomas dutcher university of new haven.

The following brief presents valuable information for states considering implementing extended familial visitations to their current visitation policies within prisons. Specifically this report would be of interest to individuals within a given states’ Department of Corrections. The brief first outlines what is known about extended stay family visitations (also known as conjugal visitations) in relation to recidivism prevention, prison violence reduction, and maintenance of social ties. Thereafter, policies of states with current programs are reviewed. The brief recommends that states adopt a visitation policy, which allows for a broad definition of who qualifies as a visitor capable of applying for an extended visitation, and recommends considering the use of a monitoring and evaluation framework paired with the implementation of a program due to the limited current state of evidence-based literature on the topic.

Statement of Issue  

Roughly 45% of the United States population has had an incarcerated primary family member, and every state has some form of in-person visitation policy, but the vast majority of incarcerated persons will not receive visits from family (Cochran & Mears, 2013; Enns et al., 2019; Mitchell et al., 2016). The extant quantitative literature on the effects of familial visitation on the incarcerated person finds that visitations increase overall mood, increase reports of familial ties, decrease rule violation behavior, reduce the likelihood of recidivism. Yet it is important to note that within these studies, it is rare for more than 40% of those incarcerated individuals to report receiving any visits, let alone visits from family members (De Claire & Dixon, 2017; Duwe & Clark, 2013; Mears et al., 2012; Mitchell et al., 2016).

While visitation and maintaining familial ties are seen as theoretically relevant for reducing recidivism by reducing strain, strengthening familial ties, and combatting labeling associated with prisonization, there are significant barriers to visitation (Cochran & Mears, 2013). These barriers include distance to be traveled (often hundreds of miles), cost of travel, poor conditions in the general visiting area, length of visit, inconsistency in hours of allowable visit, length of time spent waiting at the facility, and the overarching cost of the experience (Christian, 2005; Cochran & Mears, 2013; Mowen & Visher, 2016).

With this in mind, this policy brief seeks to explore one way for addressing low in-person familial visitation rates. In the section that follows, a background on extended familial or “conjugal” visits will be provided. As of 2021, only four states have official extended familial visitation programs: Connecticut (Connecticut Department of Correction Directive 10.6), California (see Boudin et al., 2013), New York (DOC Dir 4500), and Washington (DOC 590.100). Extended familial visits, while not a panacea to low prison visitation, address many of the barriers to visitation shown in the existing literature.

Prison visitation has received a great deal of attention from researchers in the past 20 years. This research tends to show that visitation has a positive impact on the lives of those incarcerated, as well as the individuals visiting (Duwe & Clark, 2013; Mears et al., 2012; Mitchell et al., 2016; Tasca et al., 2016). Rather than detailing the key findings of the literature, the focus of this brief is placed on two separate meta-analyses of prison visitation research, along with a few routinely cited studies. This overarching literature will be used to introduce the limited research that has been conducted on extended familial (conjugal) visitations. While most of this research focuses on the effects of visitation on recidivism, it should be noted that an entirely separate body of research focuses on the effects of visitation for families on the outside (see: Adams, 2018; Christian, 2005; Mowen & Visher, 2016;; Siennick et al., 2013; Turanovic et al., 2012)

One meta-analysis conducted by De Claire & Dixon (2017) examined 10 studies that specifically looked at the effects of familial and romantic partner visitation related to the overall mood and disposition of the incarcerated person, instances of violations in prison, and recidivism. The authors found support for their hypothesis that visits from family improve mood, decrease in-prison violations, and decrease recidivism risk (De Claire & Dixon, 2017). However, differences exist related to the gender of the incarcerated individual. For example, visitation only reduced recidivism at a statistically significant level for men, not women (Claire & Dixon, 2017). The researchers noted that there needs to be further studies that examine the nuances of types of visitation, including extended familial visitation, and their effect on recidivism and in prison violations.

Mitchell et al. (2016), in another meta-analysis of the effects of prison visitation specific to recidivism outcomes, examined studies of 16 prison visitation programs that used either an experimental or quasi-experimental design. This meta-analysis found that prison visitation reduces recidivism by 26%, but that gender (larger effect for men than women), type of visit, and length of incarceration mediate the effect (Mitchell et al., 2016). Despite this mediation, the effect of visitation remained moderately significant. Unique to this meta-analysis was the inclusion of extended familial (conjugal) visits as a visitation type.  While it should be noted that far fewer studies in the meta-analysis were used to test the effect of these visits, the results of this study show that extended familial visits had the strongest effect on recidivism of any type of visitation, reducing recidivism by 36% (Mitchell et al., 2016).

Research specifically examining the effects of extended family (conjugal) visitation is hard to locate in the extant literature. The evaluative studies which do exist have focused almost exclusively on the extended visit program in the state of Mississippi, which ended in 2014 (McElreath et al., 2016). Research examining extended visitations generally includes discussions of now defunct programs (such as the aforementioned Mississippi program), in large part because the extant literature does not extend beyond 2014 (see Boudin et al., 2013; Carlson & Cevera, 1991; D’Alessio et al., 2013; Einat & Rabinovitz, 2013; Hensley et al., 2000, 2002). This prior research largely paints a positive picture of this form of visitation.

Hensley et al. (2000), surveying currently incarcerated persons in two facilities in Mississippi (126 men and 130 women), sought to examine if those that received extended familial (conjugal) visits had different views on the program than those who were eligible but did not participate. It is important to note that this study oversampled those receiving extended family visits, as 53% of their sample received this form of visit, whereas only 7% of the prison population received extended family visits (Hensley et al., 2000). Using logistic regression, this study found that there were no statistically significant differences in the opinions of extended visitations between those who did and did not receive them (Hensley et al., 2000). Both those who did and did not receive extended visits were in favor of the practice (Hensley et al., 2000).

Hensely et al. (2002) sought to examine the effects of extended family visits on the threat of, as well as actual acts of violent assault and sexual violence. In this study, extended family (conjugal) visits were coded as a dichotomous yes/no variable.  Using multiple regression, the researchers found that while extended family (conjugal) visits decreased threats and actual acts of violence/sexual violence for incarcerated women in the sample, this difference was not statistically significant. Additionally, this study found that extended family (conjugal) visits had no overall effect on violence scales employed (measuring threats and acts) (Hensley et al., 2002).

However, these null findings are in contrast to the majority of the extant literature, which finds positive effects of extended familial (conjugal) visitation (D’Alessio et al., 2013; De Claire & Dixon, 2017; Einat & Rabinovitz, 2013; Mears et al., 2012; Mitchell et al., 2016). D’Alessio et al. (2013), for example, in examining the rates of a reported inmate to inmate sexual assaults in all 50 states over three years, found that conjugal visitation was a statistically significant factor that reduced instances of sexual assault within men’s facilities. In other words, states with specific policies that allowed for extended familial (conjugal) visitation had lower reported rates of sexual abuse in their prisons. However, it must be mentioned again that since the time of this study, both Mississippi and New Mexico have ended their visitation programs.

Qualitative research has delved deeper into the perceptions of extended visits through the perspective of incarcerated persons. In studying perceptions of visitation experiences for incarcerated men, Pierce (2015) found that extended family visits were incredibly important to the 32 men in their sample for maintaining social bonds with their loved ones. Extended visits were mentioned as being preferred for their relative privacy and reportedly produced more meaningful visitation experiences for these men. Pierce (2015) found that continuing extended family visitations, improving the conditions of the trailers, and increasing the number of trailers to facilitate more frequent extended visits per eligible party were among the primary recommendations made by men for facilitating stronger familial ties. Additionally, Einat & Rabinovitz, (2013) examined the importance of “conjugal” visits for eight incarcerated women in Israel. Similarly, these women reflected on the importance of one-on-one visits to maintain deep connections with their romantic partners, which went beyond simply engaging in sex (Einat & Rabinovitz, 2013). The privacy and intimacy of non-traditional visits led individuals in both studies to assert extended visits were more beneficial to their familial relationships than a standard visit (Einat & Rabinovitz, 2013; Pierce, 2015).

Pre-existing policies

While all states have various regulations regarding the length of visitation, type of visit allowed (contact or no contact), and who may visit, all 50 states have a formal policy regulating prison visitation (Boudin et al., 2013). While most states have special policies allowing for extended visits, these extensions are seldom for longer than a few hours during the day. They also vary across states in terms of length of the extension and what type of visitor can request an extended visit (Boudin et al., 2013). Existing policies on these variations in day-time-hour-based extended visits also vary by state and are not possible to recount in detail. Of particular interest is the overnight extended stay visit (often referred to as a familial visit or conjugal visit). As of 2014, when New Mexico and Mississippi canceled their programs, 46 states have no formal policy that allows incarcerated individuals to engage in a private overnight stay with any familial visitor (Boudin et al., 2013) . The policies of Connecticut, New York, and Washington will be outlined below, with a focus on the unique or differing dimensions of each policy.

Extended Options: Connecticut

In the state of Connecticut, incarcerated persons are eligible for a 24-hour extended family visit from their child (under 18) and their spouse, the child's guardian, or the parent of the incarcerated person (Connecticut Department of Correction Directive 10.6). Unique to this policy is the mandate that the incarcerated person must be visited by two persons, one of whom must be their child. Incarcerated persons are eligible for a visit every 90-days. A set of eligibility guidelines exists for both the visitors and the incarcerated person. These eligibility guidelines for the incarcerated person mandate that they must not be on a restrictive status, must not have high-class disciplinary offenses, must have been incarcerated for at least 90 days, and must be in good health (Connecticut Department of Correction Directive 10.6) . Extended family visits occur on Saturdays and Wednesdays, beginning at 8:30 in the morning and ending at 8:30 the next day (Connecticut Department of Correction Directive 10.6). These visits cost ten dollars and are conducted in private trailers that are “similar to a two-bedroom apartment” (Connecticut Department of Correction Directive 10.6, p. 7) . Each facility in the state is capable of setting its own specific eligibility guidelines for both visitors and incarcerated individuals, in addition to the general rules set forth by the Connecticut Department of Corrections

Unlike the Connecticut state policy, which requires a child present in order for the extended stay visit to occur, the policies in New York, Washington, and California do not have this provision. Similar among all three policies are the extensive documents required by the visitor, to establish their identity and connection to the incarcerated person they are seeking to visit, as well as a lengthy application process that includes providing medical, legal, and background records . In all three states, a committee makes the final decision to approve or reject applications for these extended visits.

Extended Options: Washington

The “Extended Stay Family Policy” of Washington used the terminology “Extended Family Visits” rather than the now stigmatized term of conjugal visit (DOC 590.100) . Individuals able to apply for these types of visits include immediate family, parents, step-parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts or uncles, and legally married or state-certified domestic partners (DOC 590.100) . Similar to Connecticut, these visits are private and occur in mobile home units that must have at least one bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom and a living room. Under the Washington state policy, the incarcerated person must be serving at least five years, have been incarcerated for at least one year, cannot be in a maximum security facility, and cannot be a sex offender. The visitor cannot be their victim in the case of domestic violence, and the inmate must have a clean infraction record (DOC 590.100) . For visitors, the individual cannot be on parole, probation, or awaiting trial, cannot have testified against the individual, must be on their visitor list, and must have visited in person or through video visitations at least 6 times in the last year (DOC 590.100) . This last qualification is especially unique to this policy. The visits themselves can last from 20-48 hours and cost $15 per night, a charge payable by either the visitor or the incarcerated person. An incarcerated person is eligible for one extended visit per month.

Extended Options: New York

The New York Family Reunification Program operates similarly to the aforementioned Washington State policy. There are strict eligibility requirements, which include but are not limited to: the incarcerated person must be a minimum of 6 months into their sentence, must be clear of “excessive” disciplinary infractions and have no “major or severe” infractions, must be eligible for regular visits, cannot be a sex offender, and must be involved in at least one program related to their risk-needs assessment (DOC Dir 4500) . Visitor eligibility also requires that the individual be a frequent visitor; however, unlike the six visits required in Washington, three visits within the last year are required in New York.

For a visitor to be eligible, they must be able to show they are a legally married or common-law spouse, a child over the age of 18, a child under the age of 18 accompanied by a parent or the spouse of the incarcerated person, a minor child without an adult but with written permission approved under special review, a parent or step-parent of the incarcerated person, or a grandparent (DOC Dir 4500). The review process in the state of New York takes roughly five weeks by a full cycle review of the state DOC; after initial approval, subsequent applications can be handled by the specific facility. Twenty-two out of the fifty-two correctional facilities in the state offer this program (DOC Dir 4500). Similar to Washington State, extended visits can be canceled at any time, and individuals can lose their eligibility within the program, subject to the discretion of the facility.

Policy Options

Based on prior literature, the following policy options exist for states interested in implementing a form of an extended family (conjugal) visitation program. These policy options will focus on the general type of visit. Guidelines on eligibility are largely similar across the existing policy options, and as such, a given state should determine eligibility in line with their current visitation procedures. Noting that there is state by state variation in visitation procedures (Boudin et al., 2013), it is not feasible in this brief to cover all aspects of an extended family visitation policy. Instead, the options provided are based on the shared characteristics of existing policies. In other words, in the options that follow (particularly options one and two), the state will be left to determine what specific qualifying and disqualifying protocols should be in place for incarcerated persons to be eligible for the program.

The three policy options provided focus solely on the eligibility who can visit. These options are as follows:

Option 1 – Child-Caregiver-Incarcerated Parent Extended Visit

This option suggests adopting and implementing a family visitation program inspired by the state of Connecticut, requiring a child to be present during such visitations. The naming of this option as Child-Caregiver-Incarcerated Parent Extended Visit highlights the strict requirement of this approach. Only incarcerated parents of minor children may participate in this program, and only if the caregiver of that child is also willing to participate in that visit. It is recommended in this option to follow the overarching policy guidelines of the state of Connecticut related to the contents of visitation trailers and the length of these visits. As stated previously, the state may determine additional qualifying or disqualifying metrics.  

Advantages:

  • Allows for the facilitation of social ties between children and their incarcerated parent, which has been shown to reduce the criminogenic impact of growing up with an incarcerated parent.
  • Allows for the strengthening and maintaining of social bonds and ties between the child, incarcerated parent, and caregiver.
  • By focusing the policy and public narrative around the child being present, it may be possible to prevent negative public backlash related to the label of “conjugal” visits.

Disadvantages:

  • The scope of this program is limited to incarcerated individuals who have a child and a relationship with that child’s caregiver that would facilitate a three-way visitation.
  • Initial administrative, operations, and constructions costs related to setting up the infrastructure to facilitate these visits.
  • Times for such visits would be limited due to school schedules and would likely cause a backlog of visitations.
  • It may be hard for the child and parent to require the pre-requisite number of prior regular visits in order to be eligible for extended visits.

Option 2 – General Extended Family Visit

Adopt and implement a family visitation program inspired by states that do not have the child plus caregiver requirement. Or in other words, those states whose policies use a broader definition of who can visit. For the purposes of clarity and simplicity, this can be called the General Extended Family Visit. Within such a policy, parents, siblings, children, legal or common-law spouses, grandparents, and additional family members would be able to apply for the general extended family visit, if they had made a minimum of three regular visits (in person or video) in the prior year. It is recommended that states base their specific policy to be in line with their already existing visitation policies, while incorporating the key structures of The New York Family Reunification Program. As stated previously, the state may determine additional qualifying or disqualifying metrics.  

  • A wider variety of individuals who are key social support structures in the lives of incarcerated persons would have access to the visitation program.
  • Extended family visitation has been shown to decrease recidivism after re-entry, decrease instances of violence in prison between incarcerated persons, and produce stronger reports of familial ties on release.
  • Longer, higher-quality interpersonal visits may facilitate a higher frequency of visits by helping to combat certain barriers to visitation.
  • Allows for policy evaluation research to examine the effects of different types of visitors on things such as stress and strain experienced by incarcerated persons, recidivism, inter-inmate violence, and visitation satisfaction. This is critical to understanding what types of visits are beneficial and which ones do more harm than good.
  • Different types of visitors are shown to produce different levels of social and emotional support based on factors like the gender of the incarcerated person (Adams, 2018; Mowen & Visher, 2016; Turanovic & Tasca, 2019).

Disadvantages

  • Achieving pre-requite prior visitations may be difficult for individuals seeking to participate in the program.
  • It may appear as a “soft on criminals” approach that led to the cancelation of extended family (conjugal) visitation programs in states such as Mississippi and New Mexico.

Option 3 – Maintain course

A third option is to maintain current visitation policies and not provide extended family visitations. This “as is” approach centers around the idea that the given Department of Corrections is doing enough to facilitate familial ties by providing its regular, standard visitation practices. This applies to states with no set-up for extended visits and those having only informal extended visit procedures (Boudin et al., 2013).

  • No additional cost incurred (only applies to states that do not still have facilities from previous programs).
  • No changes in policy, staffing, or procedures needed.
  • No risk of public backlash of being “soft on criminals.”
  • Does not address the needs of incarcerated persons or their families relative to visitation.
  • Does not allow for continued research on how various types of visitation may have greater impacts on recidivism.
  • Ignores that there is research that shows that extended family visits reduce recidivism more than standard visits.
  • Does not address the burdens experienced by families of incarcerated persons.

Recommendations

With careful consideration of existing familial visitation policies and standard visitation policies, as well as the recognition that existing policies in either domain are not standardized but rather tailored to the individual state by their department of corrections (Boudin et al., 2013), it is the recommendation of this paper that, in light of research showing the positive effects of extended family visits on recidivism and family ties, states currently without such policies should adopt a General Extended Family Visit policy (option two in the previous section). As mentioned above, the primary advantages of this approach include its broader scope of allowable visitors (recognizing heterogeneity in visitation effects), its capacity for reducing barriers to visitation, and the expected impacts on recidivism and quality of life.

Reducing barriers to incarceration is critical to sustaining the positive effects of visitation experienced by incarcerated persons, as research has shown that disruptions such as canceled visitation or infrequent visitation diminish the statistical significance of visitation in reducing misconduct while incarcerated (Siennick et al., 2013). While a full review of the significant barriers faced in attempting to visit an incarcerated family member is beyond the scope of this report, these difficulties largely center around time and distance spent traveling, cost of traveling, already fraying relationships, and negative outlooks on the visitation environment itself (Christian, 2005; Mitchell et al., 2016; Mowen & Visher, 2016). By providing private trailers with amenities far beyond that of a regular visitation space , an overnight visit, and privacy to promote a sense of near normalcy alongside intimacy, General Extended Family Visits directly address several of these barriers.

A key component leading to the recommendation for states without extended familial visits to adopt a program in its likeness is that it does not require the presence of a child for such visits to occur and allows for the broadest range of potential visitors, with extended family being able to apply for special consideration . This is important, because both qualitative and quantitative research reveals the effects of visitations are about more than just the simple act of visiting. There is no standard “best visitor,” and factors such as the gender of the incarcerated person, the quality of the previous relationship, and parenthood status all present unique dimensions to determining who makes an individual level best visitor (Mitchell et al., 2016; Mowen & Visher, 2016; Tasca et al., 2016; Turanovic & Tasca, 2019). Thus, by having a more open approach to individuals who can apply for extended visitation, states avoid a “one-size fits all” approach to policymaking.    

While prior quantitative research is limited, this research has found support for the ability of extended family visitation to have a greater effect on reducing recidivism and inter-inmate violence than standard visitations (Boudin et al., 2013; D’Alessio et al., 2013; De Claire & Dixon, 2017; Mitchell et al., 2016). In addition to reducing recidivism (a major goal of the correctional system and criminal justice system as a whole), extended visitations help to lessen the burden of the collateral consequences of incarceration, especially the strains and stressors related to the deterioration of familial networks, experienced by both those that are incarcerated and their families on the outside (Mowen & Visher, 2016; Tasca et al., 2016; Turanovic et al., 2012). In continuing with trends supporting restorative justice and social justice approaches to the criminal justice system, alleviating strains experienced by families of the incarcerated presents another strong reason for adopting this form of General Extended Family Policy. The importance of extended family visits for the mental and social wellbeing of incarcerated persons and their own views on their familial ties has been shown in research examining both incarcerated men and women (Einat & Rabinovitz, 2013; Pierce, 2015).

It is important to note, as we strive for evidence-based practices and policies, that more research is needed on the specific effects of extended family visits. The extant research has become outdated, existing in a time and space of a vastly different socio-political and prison policy climate (i.e., the get-tough era). The meta-analyses presented above focus primarily on visitation as a whole. While extended visitation was included in their analyses, replication and further study are needed to determine the degree to which extended visits may provide more of a benefit than regular visitation programs. Thus, states implementing the above recommendation should do so with the explicit purpose of constructing a monitoring and evaluation framework in order to conduct further research on the effects of extended family visitation on recidivism, prison misconduct, and familial ties.

Annotated Bibliography

Adams, B. L. (2018). Paternal incarceration and the family: Fifteen years in review. Sociology Compass , 12 (3), e12567. https://doi.org/10.1111/soc4.12567

This review of previous literature is important for understanding the effects of incarceration on families. The researchers provide a comprehensive review of the current state of literature related to paternal incarceration and provide insights into the importance of visitation for familial ties. Those without a background on the impacts of incarceration on families can gain a snapshot of modern research on the topic from this paper.

Boudin, C., Stutz, T., & Littman, A. (2013). Prison visitation policies: A fifty-state survey. Yale Law and Policy Review , 32(1) , 149-189.

This is the only known comprehensive review of visitation policies in every state. This paper highlights the variation in policies by state and notes the differences between formal stated policies and informal practices. The article features a review of various extended stay programs. However, it should be noted that several states listed as providing extended stay programs, no longer provide such services (New Mexico and Mississippi).

Carlson, B. E., & Cevera, N. (1991). Inmates and their Families: Conjugal Visits, Family Contact, and Family Functioning. Criminal Justice and Behavior , 18 (3), 318–331. https://doi.org/10.1177/0093854891018003005

This study examined differences in the perceptions of family functioning and familial bonds between incarcerated men and their wives participating in the "Family Reunification Program", an extended visit policy in New York State. The results of this study, based on surveys by 63 incarcerated persons and 39 wives, found positive effects for the extended visitation program. Both incarcerated men and their partners reported higher levels of closeness than those not participating in the Family Reunification program.

Christian, J. (2005). Riding the Bus: Barriers to Prison Visitation and Family Management Strategies. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice , 21 (1), 31–48. https://doi.org/10.1177/1043986204271618

This qualitative research study examines the lived experience of individuals riding a 24 hour bus to visit their incarcerated loved ones. The study finds significant barriers to incarceration related not only to time and distance but also treatment by correctional staff and the visitation environment. This study provides qualitative depth to help understand the relatively low rate of individuals receiving visits while incarcerated in the United States.

Cochran, J. C., & Mears, D. P. (2013). Social isolation and inmate behavior: A conceptual framework for theorizing prison visitation and guiding and assessing research. Journal of Criminal Justice , 41 (4), 252–261. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2013.05.001

This article provides a comprehensive review on scholarship related to both positive and negative effects of prison visitation. The article provides an expert analysis on the current state of the literature as well as the heterogeneous impacts of various types of prison visitation.

Connecticut Department of Corrections. (2020). Inmate Visits (10.6; p. 14). Connecticut Department of Corrections.

This document provides the Connecticut Department of Corrections policies related to visitations at carceral facilities in the state. It presents the overall policies of the state, including but not limited to the states’ extended visit policy. It is of critical importance to understanding existing policies in place

D’Alessio, S. J., Flexon, J., & Stolzenberg, L. (2013). The Effect of Conjugal Visitation on Sexual Violence in Prison. American Journal of Criminal Justice , 38 (1), 13–26. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-012-9155-5

This article examines the impact of conjugal visits on sexual violence in prisons by examining longitudinal data from all fifty states. In this study the dependent variable is the yearly number of reported sexual offenses between incarcerated persons and the independent variable of interest is a dummy variable based on if a state has a conjugal visitation program. This study found that states with conjugal visitation programs have significantly lower levels of sexual offenses when controlling for other factors. This article makes up a key portion of the limited extant literature on conjugal visitation.

De Claire, K., & Dixon, L. (2017). The Effects of Prison Visits from Family Members on Prisoners’ Well-Being, Prison Rule Breaking, and Recidivism: A Review of Research since 1991. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse , 18 (2), 185–199. https://doi.org/10.1177/1524838015603209

This article provides a meta-analysis of prison visitation research, focused specifically on the effects of that research for incarcerated persons. The study finds that visitation generally has a positive impact on inmate wellbeing, reduces recidivism, and reduces inter-inmate violence. Additionally, this research finds heterogeneity in the effects of visitation based on the type of visit and the gender of the inmate being visited. This study is important for those seeking a background on the effects of prison visitation for incarcerated persons.

Duwe, G., & Clark, V. (2013). Blessed Be the Social Tie That Binds: The Effects of Prison Visitation on Offender Recidivism. Criminal Justice Policy Review , 24 (3), 271–296. https://doi.org/10.1177/0887403411429724

This article examines the impact of visitation, visitation frequency, and type of visitor on recidivism risk. The study found that examining visitation frequency shows there are nuanced effects beyond visitation yes/no of visitation on recidivism. Additionally, certain visitors were found to decrease recidivism risk while others, such as former spouses, increased risk of recidivism post-release. It is a well-researched and methodologically sound article providing a nuanced take on the effects of visitation.

Einat, T., & Rabinovitz, S. (2013). A Warm Touch in a Cold Cell: Inmates’ Views on Conjugal Visits in a Maximum-Security Women’s Prison in Israel. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology , 57 (12), 1522–1545. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306624X12461475

This article examines the perceptions of conjugal visitations within a women's prison in Isreal. This qualitative study reveals key themes related to the visitation experience that highlights its importance for maintaining familial ties and social bonds for participating women. It is an important study for those examining the significance of providing extended visits beyond measurable metrics such as recidivism.

Enns, P. K., Yi, Y., Comfort, M., Goldman, A. W., Lee, H., Muller, C., Wakefield, S., Wang, E. A., & Wildeman, C. (2019). What Percentage of Americans Have Ever Had a Family Member Incarcerated? Evidence from the Family History of Incarceration Survey (FamHIS). Socius , 5 , 2378023119829332. https://doi.org/10.1177/2378023119829332

This article uses a new tool the Family History of Incarcerated Survey, to answer their research question of how many individuals living in America have ever had an incarcerated family member. The authors found that nearly half of all Americans have experienced the incarceration of an immediate member of their family. This research is important for beginning to understand the significance of having a variety of visitation programs within a given department of corrections.

Hensley, C., Koscheski, M., & Tewksbury, R. (2002). Does Participation in Conjugal Visitations Reduce Prison Violence in Mississippi? An Exploratory Study. Criminal Justice Review , 27 (1), 52–65. https://doi.org/10.1177/073401680202700104

This study examines the impact of conjugal visitation on inter-inmate violence in prisons within the state of Mississippi. The researchers surveyed 256 men and women within two prisons in the state. The researchers found no statistically significant difference in threats or acts of violence between those participating in the program and those that were not. This study is important to recognize because it does not find positive effects of conjugal visitation.

Hensley, C., Rutland, S., & Gray-Ray, P. (2000). Inmate attitudes toward the conjugal visitation program in Mississippi prisons: An exploratory study. American Journal of Criminal Justice , 25 (1), 137–145.

This study examines perceptions of conjugal visitation within two Mississippi prisons. In this study incarcerated persons, both participants and non-participants were surveyed. The key finding of this study is that both groups rated the program as being a both important and necessary form of visitation regardless of their own eligibility for the program.

McElreath, D. H., Doss, D. A., Jensen, C. J., Wigginton, M. P., Mallory, S., Lyons, T., Williamson, L., & Jones, D. W. (2016). The End of the Mississippi Experiment with Conjugal Visitation. The Prison Journal , 96 (5), 752–764. https://doi.org/10.1177/0032885516662644

This article discusses the factors that led to the cancelation of the Mississippi conjugal visitation program. The authors cover previous literature on conjugal visitation as well as research specific to the state of Mississippi. It is an important piece to read to understand common objections to extended familial visitation programs.

Mears, D. P., Cochran, J. C., Siennick, S. E., & Bales, W. D. (201). Prison Visitation and Recidivism. Justice Quarterly , 29 (6), 888–918.

This article uses propensity score matching in a rigorous analysis of the effects of prison visitation on recidivism. The authors find that different types of visits as well as the frequency of visits are important moderating variables on the effect of visitation measured as yes/no on recidivism. Overall the researchers find that visitation has a positive effect on recidivism. This study is an important piece of the quantitative literature on the effects of visitation on recidivism due to its rigorous design.

Mitchell, M. M., Spooner, K., Jia, D., & Zhang, Y. (2016). The effect of prison visitation on reentry success: A meta-analysis. Journal of Criminal Justice , 47 , 74–83. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2016.07.006

This meta-analysis examines the effects of prison visitation on recidivism. The authors of this meta-analysis examined studies that looked at nuanced factors that may effects the any relationship between visitation and recidivism including; who is visiting, what type of visit is being conducted, and the gender and race of the individual being visited. The results of this study point to extended visits having a greater impact on recidivism than standard visits. This article is important for those looking to gain immediate insights into trends in the research on visitation.

Mowen, T. J., & Visher, C. A. (2016). Changing the Ties that Bind. Criminology & Public Policy , 15 (2), 503–528. https://doi.org/10.1111/1745-9133.12207

This study specifically examines factors that lead to changes in familial ties when a member of that family is incarcerated. Central among their findings to this policy brief is the reported importance of visitation in sustaining familial ties. This study is important for understanding the dynamics within families with an incarcerated immediate member.

New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. (2016). Family Reunion Program (DIR #4500; p. 14). New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

This document provides the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision policies related to the extended stay visitation program at carceral facilities in the state. It presents the overall policies of the state regarding this program known specifically as the Family Reunification Program. It is of critical importance to understanding existing policies in place

Pierce, M. B. (2015). Male Inmate Perceptions of the Visitation Experience: Suggestions on How Prisons Can Promote Inmate–Family Relationships. The Prison Journal , 95 (3), 370–396. https://doi.org/10.1177/0032885515587471

This study, through a qualitative design, examines heterogeneity in visitation by asking incarcerated men about their visitation experiences. The authors specifically included those that had experienced extended stay familial visits and the importance of these visits are accounted for in detail. This article presents important findings via recommendations these men have for improving visitation experiences.

Siennick, S. E., Mears, D.P & Bales, W.D., (2013) Here and Gone: Anticipation and Separation Effects of Prison Visits on Inmate Infractions. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 50 (3), 417–444. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022427812449470

This study examines the impact of irregular visitation schedules and canceled visitations on the behavior of incarcerated persons. The results of this study show that gaps in visitation may increase inmate infractions and violence. The authors find that maintaining and facilitating regular visits reduces infractions and violence. This study is important for examining the impacts of visitation backups and canceled visitations.

Tasca, M., Mulvey, P., & Rodriguez, N. (2016). Families coming together in prison: An examination of visitation encounters. Punishment & Society , 18 (4), 459–478. https://doi.org/10.1177/1462474516642856

This qualitative study takes a unique approach to studying prison visitation by examining what is said during these visits in order to assess factors related to perceptions of a "successful" visit. The authors present several key themes related to the types of conversations most frequently had based on the relationship between the visitor and visiting party. It is important for understanding the social dynamics of visitations.

Turanovic, J. J., Rodriguez, N., & Pratt, T. C. (2012). The collateral consequences of incarceration revisited: A qualitative analysis of the effects of caregivers of children of incarcerated parents. Criminology , 50 (4), 913–959. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-9125.2012.00283.x

This study presents a large (100 caregiver) qualitative analysis on the experiences of family members of the incarcerated. The results of this study highlight the collateral consequences of incarceration experienced by families, including barriers to incarceration. The study highlights first-hand accounts on how visitation can be a strong asset in lessening the collateral consequences of incarceration. This study is important for those seeking more information on the social benefits of visitation beyond that of recidivism prevention.

Turanovic, J. J., & Tasca, M. (2019). Inmates’ Experiences with Prison Visitation. Justice Quarterly , 36 (2), 287–322. https://doi.org/10.1080/07418825.2017.1385826

This extensive study of experiences of prison visitation examined emotional responses to visits by the incarcerated. The results of this study, derived from 228 incarcerated persons, show that a whole range of both positive and negative emotions associated with visitation are commonly experienced. The authors recommend family-focused interventions, such as extended familial visits may help maximize the positive effects of visitations while combatting negative effects.

Washington Department of Corrections. (2020). Extended Family Visiting (DOC 590.100; p. 17). Washington Department of Corrections.

This document provides the Washington State Department of Corrections policies related to extended family visitations at carceral facilities in the state. It presents the overall policies of the program and is of critical importance to understanding existing policies in place.

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How Do Conjugal Visits Work?

conjugal visit

Maintaining close ties with loved ones while doing time can increase the chances of a successful reentry program. Although several studies back this conclusion, it’s widely logical.

While the conjugal visits concept sounds commendable, there’s an increasing call to scrap the scheme, particularly across US states. This campaign has frustrated many states out of the program, leaving only a handful. Back in 1993, 17 US states recognized conjugal visits. Today, in 2020, only four do.

The conjugal visit was first practiced in Mississippi. The state, then, brought in prostitutes for inmates. The program continued until 2014. The scrap provoked massive protests from different right groups and prisoners’ families. The protesters sought a continuance of the program, which they said had so far helped sustain family bonds and inmate’s general attitude to life-after-jail.

New Mexico, the last to scrap the concept, did so after a convicted murderer impregnated four different women in prison. If these visits look as cool as many theories postulate, why the anti-conjugal-visit campaigns in countries like the US?

This article provides an in-depth guide on how conjugal visits work, states that allow conjugal visits, its historical background, arguments for and against the scheme, and what a conjugal visit entails in reality.

What Is a Conjugal Visit?

A conjugal visit is a popular practice that allows inmates to spend time alone with their loved one(s), particularly a significant other, while incarcerated. By implication, and candidly, conjugal visits afford prisoners an opportunity to, among other things, engage their significant other sexually.

However, in actual content, such visits go beyond just sex. Most eligible prisoners do not even consider intimacy during such visits. In many cases, it’s all about ‘hosting’ family members and sustaining family bonds while they serve time. In fact, in some jurisdictions, New York, for example, spouses are not involved in more than half of such visits. But how did it all start?

Inside a prison

History of Conjugal Visits

Conjugal visits origin dates back to the early 20 th century, in the then Parchman Farm – presently, Mississippi State Penitentiary. Back then, ‘qualified’ male prisoners were allowed to enjoy intimacy with prostitutes, primarily as a reward for hard work.

While underperforming prisoners were beaten, the well-behaved were rewarded in different forms, including a sex worker’s company. On their off-days, Sunday, a vehicle-load of women were brought into the facility and offered to the best behaved. The policy was soon reviewed, substituting prostitutes for inmates’ wives or girlfriends, as they wished.

The handwork-for-sex concept recorded tremendous success, and over time, about a quarter of the entire US states had introduced the practice. In no time, many other countries copied the initiative for their prisons.

Although the United States is gradually phasing out conjugal visits, the practice still holds in many countries. In Canada, for instance, “extended family visits” – a newly branded phrase for conjugal visits – permits prisoners up to 72 hours alone with their loved ones, once in few months. Close family ties and, in a few cases, friends are allowed to time alone with a prisoner. Items, like foods, used during the visit are provided by the visitors or the host – the inmate.

Over to Asia, Saudi Arabia is, arguably, one of the most generous countries when it comes to conjugal visits. Over there, inmates are allowed intimacy once monthly. Convicts with multiple wives get access to all their wives – one wife, monthly. Even more, the government foots traveling experiences for the visitors.

Conjugal visits do not exist in Great Britain. However, in some instances, prisoners incarcerated for a long period may qualify to embark on a ‘family leave’ for a short duration. This is applicable mainly for inmates whose records suggest a low risk of committing crimes outside the facility.

This practice is designed to reconnect the inmates to the real world outside the prison walls before their release . Inmates leverage on this privilege not just to reconnect with friends and family, but to also search for jobs , accommodation, and more, setting the pace for their reintegration.

Back to US history, the family visit initiative soon began to decline from around the ’80s. Now, conjugal visits only exist in California, New York, Connecticut, and Washington.

Prison Yard

Is the Increasing Cancellation Justifiable?

The conjugal visit initiative cancellation, despite promising results, was reportedly tied around public opinion. Around the ’90s, increasing pressure mounted against the practice.

One of the arguments was that convicts are sent to jail as a punishment, not for pleasure. They fail to understand that certain convictions – such as convictions for violent crimes – do not qualify for conjugal visit programs.

The anti-conjugal visit campaigners claim the practice encouraged an increase in babies fathered by inmates. There are, however, no data to substantiate such claims. Besides, inmates are usually given free contraceptives during the family visits.

Another widely touted justification, which seems the strongest, is the high running cost. Until New Mexico recently scraped the conjugal visit scheme, they had spent an average of approximately $120,000 annually. While this may sound like a lot, what then can we say of the approximately $35,540 spent annually on each inmate in federal facilities?

If the total cost of running the state’s conjugal visit program was but equivalent to the cost of keeping three inmates behind bars, then, perhaps, the scrap had some political undertones, not entirely running cost, as purported.

Besides, an old study on the population of New York’s inmates postulates that prisoners who kept ties with loved ones were about 70 percent less likely – compared to their counterparts who had no such privilege – to become repeat offenders within three years after release.

Conjugal Visit State-by-State Rules

The activities surrounding conjugal visits are widely similar across jurisdictions. That said, the different states have individual requirements for family visitation:

California: If you’re visiting a loved one in a correctional facility in California, among other rules , be ready for a once-in-four-hours search.

Connecticut : To qualify, prisoners must not be below level 4 in close custody. Close custody levels – usually on a 1-to-5 scale – measures the extent to which correctional officers monitor inmates’ day-to-day activities.

Also, inmates should not be on restriction, must not be a gang member, and must have no records of disciplinary offenses in Classes A or B in the past year. Besides, spouse-only visits are prohibited; an eligible member of the family must be involved.

New York : Unlike Connecticut and Washington, New York’s conjugal visit rules –  as with California’s – allow same-sex partners, however, not without marriage proof.

Washington : Washington is comparatively strict about her conjugal visit requirements . It enlists several crimes as basis for disqualifying inmates from enjoying such privileges. Besides, inmates must proof active involvement in a reintegration/rehabilitation scheme and must have served a minimum time, among others, to qualify. 

However, the rule allows joint visits, where two relatives are in the same facility. Visit duration varies widely – between six hours to three days. The prison supervisor calls the shots on a case-to-case basis.

As with inmates, their visitors also have their share of eligibility requirements to satisfy for an extended family visit. For instance, visitors with pending criminal records may not qualify.

As complicated as the requirements seem, it can even get a bit more complex. For instance, there is usually a great deal of paperwork, background checks, and close supervision. Understandably, these are but to guide against anything implicating. Touchingly, the prisoners’ quests are simple. They only want to reconnect with those who give them happiness, love, and, importantly, hope for a good life outside the bars.

conjugal visit

Conjugal Visits: A Typical Experience

Perhaps you’ve watched pretty similar practices in movies. But it’s entirely a different ball game in the real world. Besides that movies make the romantic visits seem like a trend presently, those in-prison sex scenes are not exactly what it is in reality.

How, then, does it work there? As mentioned, jurisdictions that still allow “extended family visits” may not grant the same to the following:

  • Persons with questionable “prison behavior”
  • Sex crime-related convicts
  • Domestic violence convicts
  • Convicts with a life sentence

Depending on the state, the visit duration lasts from one hour to up to 72 hours. Such visits can happen as frequently as once monthly, once a couple of months, or once in a year. The ‘meetings’ happen in small apartments, trailers, and related facilities designed specifically for the program.

In Connecticut, for example, the MacDougall-Walker correctional facility features structures designed to mimic typical home designs. For instance, the apartments each feature a living room with games, television, and DVD player. Over at Washington, only G-rated videos, that’s one considered suitable for general viewers, are allowed for family view in the conjugal facilities.

The kitchens are usually in good shape, and they permit both fresh and pre-cooked items. During an extended family visit in California, prisoners and their visitors are inspected at four-hour intervals, both night and day, till the visit ends.

Before the program was scrapped in New Mexico, correctional institutions filed-in inmates, and their visitors went through a thorough search. Following a stripped search, inmates were compelled to take a urine drug/alcohol test.

Better Understanding Conjugal Visits

Conjugal visits are designed to keep family ties.

New York’s term for the scheme – Family Reunion Program (FRP) – seems to explain its purpose better. For emphasis, the “R” means reunion, not reproduction, as the movies make it seem.

While sexual activities may be partly allowed, it’s primarily meant to bring a semblance of a typical family setting to inmates. Besides reunion, such schemes are designed to act as incentives to encourage inmates to be on their best behavior and comply with prison regulations.

Don’t Expect So Much Comf ort

As mentioned, an extended family visit happens in specially constructed cabins, trailers, or apartments. Too often, these spaces are half-occupied with supplies like soap, linens, condoms, etc. Such accommodations usually feature two bedrooms and a living room with basic games. While these provisions try to mimic a typical home, you shouldn’t expect so much comfort, and of course, remember your cell room is just across your entrance door.

Inmates Are Strip-Searched

Typically, prisoners are stripped in and out and often tested for drugs . In New York, for example, inmates who come out dirty on alcohol and drug tests get banned from the conjugal visit scheme for a year. While visitors are not stripped, they go through a metal detector.

Inmates Do Not Have All-time Privacy

The prison personnel carries out routine checks, during which everyone in the room comes out for count and search. Again, the officer may obstruct the visit when they need to administer medications as necessary.

Conjugal Visits FAQ

Are conjugal visits allowed in the federal prison system?

No, currently, extended family visits are recognized in only four states across the United States –  Washington, New York, Connecticut, and California.

What are the eligibility criteria?

First, conjugal visits are only allowed in a medium or lesser-security correctional facility. While each state has unique rules, commonly, inmates apply for such visits. Prisoners with recent records of reoccurring infractions like swearing and fighting may be ineligible.

To qualify, inmates must undergo and pass screenings, as deemed appropriate by the prison authority. Again, for instance, California rules say only legally married prisoners’ requests are granted.

Are gay partners allowed for conjugal visits?

Yes, but it varies across states. California and New York allow same-sex partners on conjugal visits. However, couples must have proof of legal marriage.

Are conjugal visits only done in the US?

No, although the practice began in the US, Mississippi precisely, other countries have adopted similar practices. Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, and Canada, for example, are more lenient about extended family visits.

Brazil and Venezuela’s prison facilities, for example, allow weekly ‘rendezvous.’ In Columbia, such ‘visits’ are a routine, where as many as 3,500 women troop in weekly for intimacy with their spouses. However, Northern Ireland and Britain are entirely against any form of conjugal programs. Although Germany allows extended family visits, the protocols became unbearably tight after an inmate killed his supposed spouse during one of such visits in 2010.

conjugal visit

Benefits of Conjugal Visits

Once a normal aspect of the prison system, conjugal visits and the moments that prisoners have with their families are now an indulgence to only a few prisoners in the system. Many prison officials cite huge costs and no indications of reduced recidivism rates among reasons for its prohibition.

Documentations , on the other hand, say conjugal visits dramatically curb recidivism and sexual assaults in prisons. As mentioned earlier, only four states allow conjugal visits. However, research shows that these social calls could prove beneficial to correctional services.

A review by social scientists at the Florida International University in 2012 concludes that conjugal visits have several advantages. One of such reveals that prisons that allowed conjugal visits had lower rape cases and sexual assaults than those where conjugal visits were proscribed. They deduced that sex crime in the prison system is a means of sexual gratification and not a crime of power. To reduce these offenses, they advocated for conjugal visitation across state systems.

Secondly, they determined that these visits serve as a means of continuity for couples with a spouse is in prison. Conjugal visits can strengthen family ties and improve marriage functionality since it helps to maintain the intimacy between husband and wife.

Also, it helps to induce positive attitudes in the inmates, aid the rehabilitation process, and enable the prisoner to function appropriately when reintroduced back to society. Similarly, they add that since it encourages the one-person-one partner practice, it’ll help decrease the spread of HIV. These FIU researchers recommend that more states should allow conjugal visits.

Another study by Yale students in 2012 corroborated the findings of the FIU researchers, and the research suggests that conjugal visits decrease sexual violence in prisons and induces ethical conduct in inmates who desire to spend time with their families.

Expectedly, those allowed to enjoy extended family visits are a lot happier. Besides, they tend to maintain the best behaviors within the facility so that they don’t ruin their chances of the next meeting.

Also, according to experts, visitations can drop the rate of repeat prisoners, thus making the prison system cost-effective for state administrators. An academic with the UCLA explained that if prisoners continue to keep in touch with their families, they live daily with the knowledge that life exists outside the prison walls, and they can look forward to it. Therefore, these family ties keep them in line with society’s laws. It can be viewed as a law-breaking deterrence initiative.

For emphasis, conjugal visits, better termed extended family visits, are more than for sex, as it seems. It’s about maintaining family ties, primarily. The fact is, away from the movies, spouse-alone visits are surprisingly low, if at all allowed by most states’ regulations. Extended family visits create healthy relationships between prisoners and the world outside the bars. It builds a healthy start-point for an effective reentry process, helping inmates feel hope for a good life outside jail .

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Controversy and Conjugal Visits

Conjugal visits were first allowed as incentives for the forced labor of incarcerated Black men, the practice expanding from there. Is human touch a right?

An illustration of a bedroom with a prison guard tower through the window

“The words ‘conjugal visit’ seem to have a dirty ring to them for a lot of people,” a man named John Stefanisko wrote for The Bridge, a quarterly at the Connecticut Correctional Institution at Somers, in December 1963 . This observation marked the beginning of a long campaign—far longer, perhaps, than the men at Somers could have anticipated—for conjugal visits in the state of Connecticut, a policy that would grant many incarcerated men the privilege of having sex with their wives. Conjugal visits, the editors of The Bridge wrote, are “a controversial issue, now quite in the spotlight,” thanks to their implementation at Parchman Farm in Mississippi in 1965. But the urgency of the mens’ plea, as chronicled in The Bridge and the Somers Weekly Scene , gives voice to the depth of their deprivation. “Perhaps we’re whistling in the wind,” they wrote, “but if the truth hits home to only a few, we’ll be satisfied.”

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The men at Somers wrote of conjugal visits as something new, but in fact, Parchman had adopted some version of the practice as early as 1918. Parchman, then a lucrative penal plantation , sought to incentivize Black prisoners, who picked and hoed cotton under the surveillance of armed white guards, by allowing them to bring women into their camp. The visits were unofficial, and stories from the decades that followed are varied, ranging from trysts between married couples to tales of sex workers, bussed in on weekends. The men built structures for these visits out of scrap lumber painted red, and the term “ red houses ” remained in use long after the original structures were gone. The policy was mostly limited to Black prisoners because white administrators believed that Black men had stronger sexual urges then white men, and could be made more pliable when those urges were satisfied.

This history set a precedent for conjugal visits as a policy of social control, shaped by prevailing ideas about race, sexual orientation, and gender. Prisoners embraced conjugal visits, and sometimes, the political reasonings behind them, but the writings of the men at Somers suggest a greater longing. Their desire for intimacy, privacy and, most basic of all, touch, reveals the profound lack of human contact in prison, including but also greater than sex itself.

Scholar Elizabeth Harvey paraphrases Aristotle, who described the flesh as the “medium of the tangible,” establishing one’s “sentient border with the world.” Touch is unique among the senses in that it is “dispersed throughout the body” and allows us to experience many sensations at once. Through touch we understand that we are alive. To touch an object is to know that we are separate from that object, but in touching another person, we are able to “form and express bonds” with one another. In this context, Harvey cites the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who described all touch as an exchange. “To touch is also always to be touched,” she writes.

An illustration from Volume 3, Issue 4 of The Bridge, 1963

When Parchman officially sanctioned conjugal visits in 1965 after the policy was unofficially in place for years, administrators saw it as an incentive for obedience, but also a solution to what was sometimes called the “ Sex Problem ,” a euphemism for prison rape . Criminologists of the era viewed rape in prison as a symptom of the larger “ problem of homosexuality ,” arguing that the physical deprivations of prison turned men into sexual deviants—i.e., men who wanted to have sex with other men. In this context, conjugal visits were meant to remind men of their natural roles, not merely as practitioners of “ normal sexuality ,” but as husbands. (Framing prison rape as a problem of ‘homosexuals’ was commonplace until Wilbert Rideau’s Angolite exposé Prison: The Sexual Jungle revealed the predation for what it was in 1979.)

Officials at Parchman, the sociologist Columbus B. Hopper wrote in 1962 , “consistently praise the conjugal visit as a highly important factor in reducing homosexuality, boosting inmate morale, and… comprising an important factor in preserving marriages.” Thus making the visits, by definition, conjugal, a word so widely associated with sex and prison that one can forget it simply refers to marriage. Men—and at the time, conjugal visits were only available to men—had to be legally married to be eligible for the program.

But for the men at Somers, the best argument for conjugal visitation was obvious—with one telling detail. The privacy afforded by the red houses at Parchman, Richard Brisson wrote “preserve some dignity to the affair,” creating “a feeling of being a part of a regular community rather than … participating in something that could be made to appear unclean.” For lovers secluded in bedrooms, “[t]here is no one about to mock them or to embarrass them,” he wrote. This observation suggests the ubiquity of surveillance in prison, as well as its character.

Carceral institutions are intended to operate at a bureaucratic remove; prisoners are referred to by number and were counted as “ bodies .” Guards must act as ambivalent custodians of these bodies, even when the nature of their job can be quite intimate. Prisoners are routinely strip-searched and frisked; they must ask permission to exercise any movement, to perform any bodily function. This is as true today as it was in Somers, where men frequently complained that they were treated like children. “You are constantly supervised, just as if you were a one-year-old child,” Ray Bosworth wrote in 1970 .

But guards are not parents, and the tension between dutiful ambivalence and intimate supervision often manifests as disgust. On a recent visit to Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, a maximum-security women’s prison in upstate New York, prisoners complained of being ridiculed during strip searches, and hearing guards discussing their bodies in the corridors.

Sad young woman and her husband sitting in prison visiting room.

This attitude extends to rules regulating touch between prisoners and visitors. Writing about San Quentin State Prison in California in the early 2000s, the ethnographer Megan L. Comfort described a common hierarchy of visits , each with its own allowable “degree of bodily contact.” Death Row cage visits allowed for hugs in greeting and parting, while a contact visit allowed for a hug and a kiss. The nature of the kiss, however, was subject to the discretion of individual guards. “We are allowed to kiss members of our families, hello and goodbye, but the amount of affection we may show is limited by the guard,” James Abney wrote for the Somers Weekly Scene in 1971.  “If he feels, for instance that a man is kissing his wife too much or too passionately, then he may be reprimanded for it or the visit may be ended on the spot.”

When Somers held its first “ Operation Dialogue ,” a “mediated discussion” among prisoners and staff in May 1971, conjugal visits were a primary concern. By then, California (under Governor Ronald Reagan) had embraced the policy—why hadn’t Connecticut? Administrators argued that furloughs, the practice of allowing prisoners to go home for up to several days, were a preferable alternative. This certainly would seem to be the case. In August 1971, the Scene quoted Connecticut Correction Commissioner John R. Manson, who criticized the skeezy, “tar-paper shacks” at Parchman, concluding that furloughs were “ a less artificial way for inmates to maintain ties with their families .” But to be eligible for furloughs, men were required to be within three or four months of completing their sentence. In the wake of George H.W. Bush’s infamous “ Willie Horton ” campaign ad in 1988, a racially-charged ad meant to stoke fear and anti-Black prejudice in which a violent attack was blamed on Liberal soft-on-crime policies (specifically scapegoating Michael Dukakis for a crime committed on a prison furlough that predated his tenure as governor), prison furloughs were mostly abolished. They remain rare today, still looming in the shadow of the Horton ad.

Conjugal visits are considered a rehabilitative program because, as Abney wrote, it is in “society’s best interest to make sure that [a prisoner’s] family remains intact for him to return to.” Unspoken is the disregard for people serving long sentences, or life, making conjugal visits unavailable to those who might need them the most.

The campaign for conjugal visits continued throughout the 1970s. Then, in 1980, in a sudden and “major policy reversal ,” the state of Connecticut announced that it would instate a “conjugal and family visit” program at several prisons, including Somers. Subsequent issues of the Scene outline the myriad rules for application, noting that applicants could be denied for a variety of reasons at the discretion of prison administrators.

The earliest conjugal visits at Somers lasted overnight but were less than 24 hours in total. Men could have multiple visitors, as long as they were members of his immediate family. This change signaled a new emphasis on domesticity over sex. Visits took place in trailers equipped with kitchens, where families cooked their own meals. Describing a similar set-up at San Quentin more than two decades later, Comfort wrote that the trailers were meant to encourage “people to simulate an ordinary living situation rather than fixate on a hurried physical congress.”

By the early 1990s, conjugal visitation, in some form, was official policy in 17 states. But a massive ideological shift in the way society viewed incarcerated people was already underway. In a seminal 1974 study called “What Works?”, sociologist Robert Martinson concluded that rehabilitation programs in prison “ had no appreciable effect on recidivism .” Thinkers on the left saw this as an argument for decarceration—perhaps these programs were ineffective because of the nature of prison itself. Thinkers on the right, and society more broadly, took a different view. As (ironically) the Washington Post observed, the findings were presented in “lengthy stories appearing in major newspapers, news magazines and journals, often under the headline, ‘ Nothing Works! ’”

Martinson’s work gave an air of scientific legitimacy to the growing “tough-on-crime” movement, but the former Freedom Rider, who once spent 40 days at Parchman, spawned punitive policies he couldn’t have predicted. In 1979, Martinson officially recanted his position. He died by suicide the following year.

In Mistretta v. United States (1989), the court ruled that a person’s demonstrated capacity for rehabilitation should not be a factor in federal sentencing guidelines because, they wrote, studies had proved that rehabilitation was “an unattainable goal for most cases.” It effectively enshrined “nothing works” into law.

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“Nothing works” gave rise to harsher sentencing, and more punitive policies in prisons themselves. In 1996, the state of California drastically reduced its conjugal visitation program . At San Quentin, this meant conjugal visits would no longer be available for people serving life sentences. To have benefitted from the program, and then have it taken away, was a particular blow to prisoners and partners alike. One woman told Comfort that she was in “mourning,” saying: “To me, I felt that it was like a death. ”

We don’t know how the men at Somers might have felt about this new era, or the heyday of conjugal visits that came before it. There are no issues of the Weekly Scene available after 1981 in the American Prison Newspapers collection, which is just after the visits began. But their writing, particularly their poetry, offers some insight into the deprivation that spurred their request. In 1968, James N. Teel writes, “Tell me please, do you ever cry, / have you ever tried to live while your insides die? ” While Frank Guiso , in 1970, said his existence was only an “illusion.” “I love and I don’t, / I hate and I don’t / I sing and I don’t / I live and I don’t,” he writes. But for others, disillusionment and loneliness take a specific shape.

“I wish you could always be close to me,” Luis A. Perez wrote in a poem called “ The Wait ” 1974:

I will hold your strong hand in my hand, As I stare in your eyes across the table. Trying to think of the best things to say, I then notice how I will not be able. I will long for your tender embraces, For your long and most desirable kiss. As I sleep cold for warmth of your body, You my love, are the one I will miss…

Today, only four states—California, Connecticut, Washington and New York—allow conjugal visits. (Mississippi, where Parchman is located, ended conjugal visitation in 2014 .) Some argue that Connecticut’s Extended Family Visit (EFV) program, as it is now called, doesn’t actually count , because it requires a prisoner’s child to be there along with another adult . There is also some suggestion that Connecticut’s program, while still officially on the books, has not been operational for some time.

The COVID-19 pandemic gave further cause to limit contact between prisoners and visitors, engendering changes that don’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

Somers was reorganized as a medium-security facility and renamed the Osborn Correctional Institution in 1994. A recent notice on the facility’s visitation website reads: “​​Masks must be worn at all times. A brief embrace will be permitted at the end of the visit .”

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conjugal visit

Definition of conjugal visit

Examples of conjugal visit in a sentence.

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'conjugal visit.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

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“Conjugal visit.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conjugal%20visit. Accessed 29 Jun. 2024.

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What a ‘Conjugal Visit’ Is Actually Like

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Marriage comes down to a story — one that two people are telling together. On this week’s show, we got two couples to tell us their stories. And for one of those couples, Sheila Rule and Joe Robinson , getting married meant building a relationship in the narrow windows of opportunity allowed by the prison system.

Joe and Sheila started exchanging letters while he was incarcerated, and after two and a half years, they got married. That meant they could apply for what’s popularly known as a “conjugal visit” — an overnight stay, which would be their first time alone together. And even though it took six months for their application to be approved, Joe and Sheila were lucky: Joe was in a state facility in New York, one of only four states that has a family visiting program.

Sheila: The lingo is trailers. So it’s like, “Oh, we got a trailer. We’re going on a trailer.”

“Going on a trailer” is not strictly about sex. People have their kids come and visit, or their parents. The trailers are like little mobile homes, parked on prison grounds.

Sheila: There’s a living area, like a little living room, kitchen, television. Joe: Like there’s just like you know like two little rooms, two small bedrooms, very small, bathroom. And you know like an open space, like open concept. I mean, it’s a trailer…

Family visits are intended to help people who are incarcerated maintain some kind of connection to life outside — as far as the state is concerned, it’s about reducing the chance that they’ll come back to prison. But as far as the families are concerned, it’s about time.

Sheila: It’s 44 hours. You know, you go in one afternoon, so you’d have lunch and dinner together, then you’d have a whole day, and then you’re gone the next morning. Joe:  So I would get in first … Even though there are like porters that clean the trailers, I would still go over and clean the trailers while I was waiting for Sheila to get processed. The families got processed after we got processed. So I’d be on the site before she got there, making sure it’s cozy as best as I could. Then we could hear the rustling of keys.

She’d arrive, and then they’d close the door of the trailer, and do their best to feel at home.

Joe: [The trailers] gave us a sense of normalcy. We were able to cook together, we’d dance, we would watch TV, we’d dream together. It was really, really something, and it gave me — and, I imagine, Sheila — something to look forward to.

But four times a day — morning, lunchtime, afternoon, and night — a loudspeaker would crackle, and Joe would hear a voice say, “Robinson, step out for the count.”

Joe: So the count I think was about four times a day. So once in the morning, and it’s different from prison to prison, but once, let’s say 7 in the morning, and there’s on might be at 11 ish, like close to noon, then there might be another one at 3 or 4, like when the new shift comes in. And then there’s one late evening. I mean we get up early so I wasn’t concerned about the day ones as much as the evening, because we’d be tired. We’re comfortable and all of that. Doesn’t matter: rain, snow, whatever. You have to step out. It was only four units, so we’re all standing on the count. So, it’s me and four other guys all standing there, waiting for the CO to open the gate, and then he or she counts, and it goes, “One, two, three, four, okay that’s it.”

One of the best things about the trailers was that you got to bring groceries and cook your own meals. There were all sorts of rules, though: You could bring steaks, but not steaks with bones. You could bring bagels or muffins but not ones with poppy seeds — they might show up as heroin on a drug test, and Joe was tested before, during and after every visit.

If you weren’t paying close attention, your food could be confiscated before you got to the trailer — then you had to improvise.

Joe: They had to ask other people in the unit, meaning other families. You know, “We don’t have any milk because they said the size of the container was too large. Or too many ounces.” During the counts in particular, a person might say … “Hey, can I borrow an egg? My wife forgot to bring the eggs, man.” And people are always like, “Oh sure, I’ve got some eggs,” or, “I’ve got some milk.”

Joe and Sheila got their food routine down to a science.

Joe:  I would bring beverages because beverages can be heavy. I would bring a whole bunch of bottled water, and it’s cheap there, like 25 cents a bottle or something like that, like small 16 oz bottles. I would bring maybe eight of those. I would bring about an equal amount of orange juice, cranberry juice, like cans of them, because they were cheap in the commissary. So it would save Sheila money, because it’s more expensive out here, but also weight. And it takes up space. She usually had like two things of luggage. I would bring rice, like bagged rice or boxed rice. I would bring pancake mix because I would always make pancakes. Sheila would bring eggs because I didn’t have access to eggs. I would bring these pickles that she liked, when we did sandwiches. Candy, like peppermint, just little things like that.

When they were lucky, Joe and Sheila would have 44 hours together every month and a half — that’s about 15 days a year. When they weren’t lucky, they’d have four visits a year. That’s more like seven days, in a whole year of marriage.

Joe: There were times where I felt guilty. It was like I was kind of sending her back into the world alone. Sheila:  I’d be thinking, I can’t wait ‘til what passes for normal really becomes normal. So it was that yearning — the yearning, the yearning.

For 11 years, their marriage happened in the space of the 44 hours they got in the trailers. And then, in 2016, Joe went before the parole board and got a release date: He was coming home to Sheila.

To hear the rest of their story, click above, and subscribe wherever you listen.

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conjugal visit

  • 1.1.1 Translations
  • 1.2 References

conjugal visit ( plural conjugal visits )

  • A scheduled visit during which an inmate of a penal institution is permitted to have sexual intercourse with a visitor (usually his or her spouse ) in a closely controlled setting.

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  • “ conjugal visit ”, in OneLook Dictionary Search .

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  • 11 Min Read
  • 15th April 2016

Conjugal Visits: Rules and History

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The phrase is well known in popular culture – conjugal visits means private alone time with a significant other while in prison. We all understand the connotation of conjugal visits, but allow me to spell it out. Yes, inmates are permitted to engage in sexual relations with their spouse during conjugal visits . However, many times these visitations are not used for intimacy at all. A lot of prisoners who earn this right choose to have family members come to see them, in an effort to remain close with those who matter most. In New York, 52 percent of these visits did not involve spouses.

Where Are Conjugal Visits Allowed?

States That Allow Conjugal Visits

States That Allow Conjugal Visits

As recently as 1995, 17 states had conjugal visit programs, although federal prisons never allowed it.

Today, only four states still allow conjugal visits:  California, Connecticut, New York and Washington. 

New Mexico and Mississippi cancelled their programs within the past two years.

How Did the Conjugal Visit Program Start?

Origin of Conjugal Visits

Parchman Farm

The very first prison to allow conjugal visits was  Parchman Farm (now  Mississippi State Penitentiary ).  Parchman farm began as a labor prison camp for black men in Mississippi which was a blatant attempt to keep slavery alive 50 years after the end of the Civil War.

Prison authorities believed that if black men were allowed to have sexual intercourse, they would be more productive. 

They also believed that black men had stronger sex drives. Therefore, every weekend, women would be driven in by the bus load to fraternize with the prisoners. There was no state control or legal status, the visits were simply thought to encourage surviving a six day work week of harsh labor and conditions, not to mention racist guards.

Over the years, conjugal visits evolved to spending more time with family. Even the aforementioned Parchman Farm had cleaned up the act by the 1960s; visits were sanctioned, furlough programs had begun, and cabins were built so inmates could spend time alone with their significant other. The prison would even provide toys for the family.

Following their model, conjugal visit programs saw a steady and fast rise in use. It was touted as a model of rehabilitation after a reporter paid a visit to Parchman Farm and declared it, “the wave of the future.”

Conjugal Visit Rules

Good behavior is an obvious requirement for earning family and conjugal visitation rights, but there’s a bit more to it than that. For the most part, the rules surrounding family visits are the same; they must be in medium security or lower prisons, and they must not have been convicted of sexual assault . However, each state has their own protocol for selecting which inmates have earned the privilege of family visitation:

  • Connecticut : Inmates cannot be level 4 or above in close custody (levels are on a scale of 1-5 and refers to how much they are monitored by guards on a day-to-day basis). They cannot be a member of a gang, be on restrictive status, or class A or class B disciplinary offenses within the past 12 months prior to requesting involvement. The spouse cannot come alone ; other eligible family members must participate.
  • New York : This state and California are the only ones that allow visitation for same-sex couples. Proof of marriage must also exist. Here are the guidelines for New York’s Extended Family Visit Program .
  • California : Inmates and visiting family members are subject to a search every four hours . See: California Extended Family Visit guidelines. 
  • Washington : There are a long list of requirements that inmates and visitors alike must meet before being allowed to participate in the visitation program. There are a slew of disallowed crimes, along with minimum time served, active participation in a reentry program, and housing status rules to qualify. If there are two family members in the same prison, joint visits can be arranged pending approval.

The length of the visit varies from six hours to an entire weekend, which is determined by the supervisor of the prison on a case by case basis. And just as there are eligibility requirements for prisoners, the same can be said for those who wish to visit them. Apart from the verification of the relationship, visitors must also be free of crime.

  • If a family member other than a spouse, such as brother or sister, wishes to visit, it will be scrutinized closely.
  • If a child is participating, a birth certificate showing that the inmate is their biological father is required.
  • If the inmate is a step-father, he must have been present during the child’s formative years (ages 7-12). There must also be consent from the child’s legal guardian.
  • The visitor cannot be on parole, or subject to criminal drug charges.

On top of these requirements is a good deal of paperwork which needs to be filled out. With all of the supervision and background checks, it would be extremely difficult for anything sinister to happen. To inmates and their family, visitation is purely about spending time with the one’s they love. So why are so many states stopping it?

Why Have Visitation Programs Been Discontinued?

As previously stated, there were 17 states with visitation programs 20 short years ago; today there are only four. The reasons for this have varied slightly, one of which being public opinion. People just don’t think criminals should have access to anything, much less time with family members. Some even get upset when they learn inmates have access to health care . Most of these people probably fail to realize that those convicted of violent crimes are not allowed to participate in family visitation programs.

Another reason is claims of contraband being snuck in and babies being conceived during these visits. But no numbers are given to back up these claims, and they appear unfounded at best as a result. The Corrections Commissioner for Mississippi even stated that they provide inmates with contraception during their visits. While there are no numbers to back up these claims, they try to use others to convince everyone that it’s too expensive.

The main reason widely given is budget cuts. That was the fallback for Mississippi and New Mexico when they cancelled their programs. In New Mexico, the program cost $120,000 a year . Their 2016 budget totals $6.2 billion . The cost of keeping the program active amounts to less than one-five hundredth of one percent of the state budget. The median household income in New Mexico is $43,782, which means that, divided evenly amongst the average taxpayer, everyone would only contribute about two cents each to a family visitation program. Yet somehow, the benefits don’t outweigh the cost.

Why Should Visitation Programs Continue?

At a rate of approximately $32,000 per year for each inmate, it’s been well documented how much it costs to keep someone in prison. Overcrowding is also a huge problem, which has many causes. But where family visitation comes into the picture is its documented ability to reduce recidivism, which show that 76 percent of those released from state prisons are arrested again within five years. Initial studies have found that visitation programs are responsible for lowering parole violations by 25 percent , but it could be higher than that according to an older study, which suggests recidivism was decreased by 67 percent because of visitation programs.

Conjugal and family visits also reduce occurrences of sexual violence in prisons by 75 percent .

This is a number too large to ignore, because the snowball effect here is that it also drastically lowers the rate of sexually transmitted diseases between prisoners. Then there is evidence that is hard to quantify. Prison guards have stated that prisoners who have access to visitation are generally happier, and are encouraged to keep up their good behavior in order to keep earning visitation privileges, or perhaps even early release. This is why prisons in the four states that still allow it have changed the name from “conjugal visits” to “family visits.” There is more to it than just intimacy; there is connection that these families are trying to maintain. If the prisoner is able to interact with the person or people for whom he will be responsible upon release, it will only motivate them to work harder to never put them through it again.

Phavy

Lifers in state of California eligible for conjugal visits as well? due gov. Jerry brown recent signed off?

Claudia

To Phavy do we know what disqualifies a lifer from getting conjugal visits besides being a sex offender and/or domestic violence. I have my husband in a state prison in CA and he has been in prison for 20 years but we needed to find out what qualifies him or disqualifies him from getting visits. Please advise, thank you in advance

The program is allowed for those who have a release date. Unfortunately it is not available for inmates serving life sentences.

Janey

If the offender has two non-sexual violent felony strikes in Ca but he has a release date and the visitor was a co defendant on an old case, can the offender get conjugal visits with the visitor if they get married?

Christiane

Very great article! As much as I advocate conjugal visitation, early justifications are shocking to me. I still hope that in future, the trend will go back to the use of extended visits in more than just 4 states. It also does not appear too expensive, particular since some prisons even charge visitors a fee per night.

Saprina

Do lifers get conjugal visits if they are in prison for non violence on woman???

It would depend on where they are sentenced and what exactly the offense is, along with how they have conducted themselves while in prison.

Tina

I pray they go back to the old way,, but with different intentions I have a question my husband was convicted of corporal punishment on a spouse does he qualify for conjugal visit yes he has a release date

Amber

Is there any way a state like FL could reconsider “family visits” I mean my boys miss their father and he was only sentenced 10 years. I was thinking of a petition but I doubt people will view it how you and I do. Just being able to watch a movie together and hang out like we use to would mean so much I can wait for sex but the joy it brings to my boys is much more fulfilling. I mean it’s so backed up in FL they could be making more money if they charged family visits.

Marilyn Wiggins

Marilyn Wiggins

Amber I will sign a petition if it’s started. The sanctity of family is important.

karen lea pollard-mills

karen lea pollard-mills

I WOULD SIGN A PETITION ALSO! LETS START ONE NATIONWIDE! NOT JUST FOR EACH STATE!

Ashley

I believe this would be great. Even if there was a price tag many people would pay it. That would help lower the cost of prisons.

Emily

Does anyone know what prisons in New York allow conjugal visits?

In the post, there is a link to the guidelines for New York’s Extended family visit program. Click it to see all the guidelines and how to apply for them. Good luck.

Leslie L Miller

Leslie L Miller

My husband is serving life without! He was convicted at 19, you know they are taking every form of human contact away from human beings and expecting them to just lay down be good and wither away slowly! Why? My husband is now 37, he is not the same person he was , we have been married 12 years together 15, never consummated our marriage! To some of us it’s a religious right if only one time! Changes need to be made in our system! It’s broken if we don’t rethink alot of things all we are going to create is detached MONSTERS, with no concept of real feelings or emotions!

Suz

I couldn’t agree more! The love of my life is serving life w/o parole and was 19 also. He’s served 15 years now and has changed, grown up and matured. Have you read about the science that states teens are not fully matured until their mid 20’s and should not be given life w/o parole at such a young age? 11 men were released on this science and more states need to follow suit and parole those who have changed and matured and will not repeat their mistakes! They deserve a 2nd chance. There is a video on this called second chance kids also! Good Luck with your husband!

Jacquelyne Garza

Jacquelyne Garza

What year where the conjugal visits taken away in California, I think it was 1994 or 1995 or 1996 which one was it ??? Please tell me.

GP

The article plainly states that CA is one of the remaining states allowing such visitation. I’ve also seen them taking place on MSNBC’s Lock Up.

bob

Will inmates who have prior rules violations for drug smuggling into the prison be permitted conjugal visits?

candi

does anyone know the list of things you can take into your conjugal visit?

C.J.

Go to the prison website

Mahlia

So inmates who have life without the possibility of parole can’t have conjugal visits at all? My guy has been transferred to a level 3 prison now. Does that mean anything?

lizy vicent

lizy vicent

I believe anybody that owns 100% of your heart is worth fighting for. Yes, I am boasting because I never adhered to some negative advice from my parents when I was about getting married. There was a war between our two family then my husband was his mothers puppy, his family members used him a lot that he cant make any decision without consulting them. What surprised me most was the moment a 36-year-old man seeks his parent and some family members consent before dating anyone, the worst happened when he was instructed to bring me along to their country home in Rampart, New Orleans, it was risky to accept such invitation.The war between our families started when he finally proposed (that was about 4 years ago), his family gave some conditions if he must wife me (we have to live with them), I was in shock when my husband accepted and was happy with their conditions (so crazy). My family wagged and demanded I should breakup with him immediately.I decided to give him the last shot as a man whom has already taken over 100% of my heart, I took a risk to go spiritual with them by consulting Priest Udene via [email protected] , I dont know how but the spiritual father already knew I was going to consult him. He first of all told me the danger I was into and how my husband has been enslaved since birth, how they keep brain washing him to do their wills.Like the quote that says a person sees clearly only with the heart, I realized that nobody saw what I saw in my husband and thats why I used the help of PRIEST UDENE to put him out of his misery. His eyes where opened by PRIEST UDENE for the first time, his family fell in love with me and granted every of our request, our families have known peace since after the love spell.It is over 2 years after the love spell and my husband has continued to improve every day without interference from his family. I have waited too long to share this amazing piece. Thanks for your time and also to PRIEST UDENE. I knew him through reading some amazing testimonies on blogs.

Tracey Duffy

Tracey Duffy

Are the visits during the weekend or weekdays, usually?

Patricia Monteiro

Patricia Monteiro

Me and my fuance plan to marry soon. He is serving a 15 to life sentence and has been in nearly 4 years now. He does not have a release date. He is single celled in a level 4 prison. He has a history of violence. Will he be eligible for conjucal visits upon marriage ?

Kat

does patton state hospital allow family visits?

mariah clifton

mariah clifton

hi…me and boyfriend are trying to get married in the california state prison but he has a prior domestic abuse charge on him from years ago with his babymomma does that stop us from conjugal visits once we are married?

jackie larbi

jackie larbi

Thank god that we do not allow this to happen in are prisons.

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Definition of conjugal visit noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

conjugal visit

  • Many prisons still prohibit conjugal visits.

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Look up any word in the dictionary offline, anytime, anywhere with the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary app.

conjugal visit bedeutung

Conjugal Visit Laws by State 2024

California refers to these visits as contact visits. Conjugal visits have had a notorious past recently in the United States , as they were often not allowed to see their family unless it was for brief contact or to speak with them on the phone. Conjugal visits began as a way for an incarcerated partner to spend private time with their domestic partner, spouse, or life partner. Historically, these were granted as a result of mental health as well as some rights that have since been argued in court. For example, cases have gone to the Supreme Court which have been filed as visits being considered privileges instead of rights.

The right to procreate, religious freedom, marital privacy and to abstain from cruel and unusual punishment has been brought up and observed by the court. Of course, married spouses can't procreate if one is incarcerated, and this has been a topic of hot debate in the legal community for years. Although the rules have since been relaxed to allow more private time with one's family, especially to incentivize good behavior and rehabilitation, it is still a controversy within social parameters.

In 1993, only 17 states had conjugal visit programs, which went down to 6 in 2000. By 2015, almost all states had eliminated the need for these programs in favor of more progressive values. California was one of the first to create a program based around contact visits, which allows the inmate time with their family instead of "private time" with their spouses as a means of forced love or procreation.

Washington and Connecticut

Connecticut and Washington have similar programs within their prison systems, referring to conjugal visits as extended family visits. Of course, the focus has been to take the stigma away from conjugal visits as a means of procreation, a short time, and a privilege as a result of good behavior. Extended family visits are much more wholesome and inclusive, giving relatively ample time to connect with one's family, regardless if they have a partner or not. Inmates can see their children, parents, cousins, or anyone who is deemed to have been, and still is, close to the prisoner.

Of course, there are proponents of this system that say this aids rehabilitation in favor of being good role models for their children or younger siblings. Others feel if someone has committed a heinous crime, their rights should be fully stripped away to severely punish their behavior.

On a cheerier note, New York has named its program the "family reunion program", which is an apt name for the state that holds the largest city in America by volume, New York City. NYC's finest have always had their handful of many different issues, including organized crime. The authorities are seeking a larger change in the incarceration system and want to adopt a stance that focuses more on the rehabilitation of the inmate that shows signs of regret, instead of severe punishment for punishment's sake.

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conjugal visit bedeutung

What does conjugal visit mean? See a translation

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Show answer from the AI monga A conjugal visit is a visit that allows a prisoner to spend time alone with their spouse or partner in a private setting, typically within the prison facility. These visits are intended to maintain the relationship between the prisoner and their significant other. Example 1: The prison allows conjugal visits on weekends for married inmates. Example 2: The couple was looking forward to their conjugal visit as it was the only time they could be together without any restrictions. Example 3: The inmate's behavior improved significantly after being granted conjugal visits with his wife. In summary, a conjugal visit is a special visitation privilege that allows a prisoner to have private time with their spouse or partner within the prison setting.

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@Zaza99 it is a designated period in which a prison inmate is allowed to be in private with a visitor

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conjugal visit bedeutung

  • English (US)

Not exactly. Say your spouse is in prison. You get to meet with them at certain times on certain days for a specified period of time. The main reason for the visit it so you can have sex with your spouse and/or do things in private to maintain your intimacy.

conjugal visit bedeutung

That’s when a prison inmate gets to have sex with his wife/girlfriend

conjugal visit bedeutung

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COMMENTS

  1. Conjugal visit

    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. The visitor is usually their legal partner. 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 ordinary life after release ...

  2. States That Allow Conjugal Visits

    In 1993, 17 states had conjugal visitation programs. By the 2000s, that number was down to six, with only California, Connecticut, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, and Washington allowing such visits. And by 2015, Mississippi and New Mexico eliminated their programs. For the most part, states no longer refer to "conjugal" visits.

  3. What is the Meaning of Conjugal Visits & Which States Have Them

    Conjugal visits were initially introduced in Mississippi state in the early 1900s. At the time, inmates were essentially just used as slaves, even physically beaten if they broke the rules or failed to work hard enough. To provide positive encouragement for those who worked hard and followed the rules, the prison brought prostitutes for the ...

  4. Conjugal Visits

    By Dana Goldstein. The Lowdown breaks down the rituals and routines of the criminal justice system. Although conjugal, or "extended," visits play a huge role in prison lore, in reality, very few inmates have access to them. Twenty years ago, 17 states offered these programs. Today, just four do: California, Connecticut, New York, and ...

  5. Conjugal Visits in Prison

    Both those who did and did not receive extended visits were in favor of the practice (Hensley et al., 2000). Hensely et al. (2002) sought to examine the effects of extended family visits on the threat of, as well as actual acts of violent assault and sexual violence. In this study, extended family (conjugal) visits were coded as a dichotomous ...

  6. How Do Conjugal Visits Work?

    A conjugal visit is a popular practice that allows inmates to spend time alone with their loved one (s), particularly a significant other, while incarcerated. By implication, and candidly, conjugal visits afford prisoners an opportunity to, among other things, engage their significant other sexually. However, in actual content, such visits go ...

  7. Controversy and Conjugal Visits

    Conjugal visits, the editors of The Bridge wrote, are "a controversial issue, now quite in the spotlight," thanks to their implementation at Parchman Farm in Mississippi in 1965. But the urgency of the mens' plea, as chronicled in The Bridge and the Somers Weekly Scene, gives voice to the depth of their deprivation.

  8. Conjugal visit Definition & Meaning

    conjugal visit: [noun] a visit (to a prisoner from a husband or wife) in which a married couple is able to have sexual relations.

  9. What a 'Conjugal Visit' Is Actually Like

    What a 'Conjugal Visit' Is Actually Like. By the Cut. The Cut on Tuesdays: a weekly podcast from the Cut and Gimlet Media, with host Molly Fischer. Photo: Photographs by New York Magazine, based on photographer Ted Spagna's "Sleep" series.

  10. conjugal visit

    conjugal visit (plural conjugal visits) A scheduled visit during which an inmate of a penal institution is permitted to have sexual intercourse with a visitor (usually his or her spouse) in a closely controlled setting.

  11. Conjugal Visits

    Conjugal Visits: Rules and History. The phrase is well known in popular culture - conjugal visits means private alone time with a significant other while in prison. We all understand the connotation of conjugal visits, but allow me to spell it out. Yes, inmates are permitted to engage in sexual relations with their spouse during conjugal visits.

  12. conjugal visit noun

    Definition of conjugal visit noun in Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary. Meaning, pronunciation, picture, example sentences, grammar, usage notes, synonyms and more.

  13. Conjugal Visit Laws by State 2024

    Conjugal visits began as a way for an incarcerated partner to spend private time with their domestic partner, spouse, or life partner. Historically, these were granted as a result of mental health as well as some rights that have since been argued in court. For example, cases have gone to the Supreme Court which have been filed as visits being ...

  14. conjugal visit

    conjugal visit. From Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English conjugal visit formal a private meeting between a prisoner and his or her wife or husband, during which they are allowed to have sex → conjugal Examples from the Corpus conjugal visit • Even as early as the second stage of imprisonment conjugal visits are permitted every ...

  15. What is the meaning of "conjugal visit"?

    A conjugal visit is a visit that allows a prisoner to spend time alone with their spouse or partner in a private setting, typically within the prison facility. These visits are intended to maintain the relationship between the prisoner and their significant other. Example 1: The prison allows conjugal visits on weekends for married inmates.

  16. conjugal visit

    Many translated example sentences containing "conjugal visit" - German-English dictionary and search engine for German translations.

  17. conjugal visit

    Learn the translation for 'conjugal\x20visit' in LEO's ­English ⇔ German­ dictionary. With noun/verb tables for the different cases and tenses links to audio pronunciation and relevant forum discussions free vocabulary trainer

  18. conjugal

    mutual rendering of conjugal rights: Last post 25 Jan 15, 16:19: It is an established principle at common law that it takes a mutual rendering of conjugal ri… 3 Replies: Prisons do not allow conjugal visits. Last post 11 May 10, 14:08: On the FAQ-page of an Australian WA-Prison: Are conjugal visits allowed? WA prisons do no… 2 Replies

  19. Redditors with spouses in prison, what are conjugal visits actually

    All visitation is supervised in the visitation area. Yeah you're right. Some jails or prisons allow people to leave for the weekend and return, or leave during the day and return at night, but in the typical sense of someone going into an inmate's cell or a private area of the prison is a Hollywood thing.

  20. A prison widower's information about conjugal visits

    Answer: (1) The prison doesn't have special conjugal rooms. They're just little plywood cubicles with one bare light bulb in the ceiling and a metal cot with a thin mattress. The visiting area is in the basement in a space that used to be used for storage. It's divided into 28 cubicles.

  21. conjugal visits

    Switch to mobile view. Learn the translation for 'conjugal\x20visits' in LEO's ­English ⇔ German­ dictionary. With noun/verb tables for the different cases and tenses links to audio pronunciation and relevant forum discussions free vocabulary trainer .

  22. conjugal

    Zur mobilen Version wechseln. Lernen Sie die Übersetzung für 'conjugal' in LEOs ­Englisch ⇔ Deutsch­ Wörterbuch. Mit Flexionstabellen der verschiedenen Fälle und Zeiten Aussprache und relevante Diskussionen Kostenloser Vokabeltrainer .

  23. Konjugation von visit

    Konjugiere das Verb visit in allen Zeitformen: Present, Past, Participle, Present Perfect, Gerund, etc. Konjugation von visit - Englisch Verb | PONS Deutsch