in Mississippi prisons, conjugal visitation programs have been successful in other states such as California and New York.
Conjugal visits give inmates the opportunity to keep the family unit together. By doing so, inmates are more likely to have
lower recidivism rates and are easier to manage while serving their sentences. There is a need in Maryland for research on
conjugal visitation programs. Past research in other states has shown that these programs are a valuable rehabilitative tool
for the Criminal Justice System. If these programs can be used to reintegrate offenders back into the community, then they
should be utilized.
of inmates enjoying themselves while serving a punitive prison sentence is largely unacceptable to innocent, American citizens
who fall prey to criminal acts. This “get tough” philosophy on punishing criminals is not overly interested in
rehabilitating inmates nor is it interested in alternative programs which may reduce recidivism rates. The focus is
on the incarceration of criminals not the reformation of them. Obviously, this type of thinking does not welcome the implementation
of conjugal visitation programs in American Correctional Facilities. Yet
the reduction of privileges such as conjugal visitations leave Correction Administrators little to work with in their dealings
with inmates. At the Maryland House of Correction Annex specifically there are no incentive programs for good behavior. There
are no programs to reward behavioral patterns that follow the rules and regulations. Administrators need some type of bargaining
tool to induce inmates to behave accordingly. Having no incentives to offer the inmates may directly inhibit the rehabilitative
process. It also places the correctional staff in a dangerous and difficult dilemma.
Legislatures are continuously creating laws which are supposed to reduce crime and to make the public feel safe.
However, creating statutes that abolish inmate privileges leave correctional officials with volatile prisons that serve as
incubators for violence and a birthplace of subversive behavior. Not all inmates
are serving life sentences. The majority of prisoners are released. The “lock’em up and throw away the key”
attitude is bad policy. Even for lifers, who then have absolutely nothing to gain by trying to reform. If offenders are becoming
worse criminals while serving their sentences and then being released back into society, then correctional institutions are
not serving their purpose. Policymakers must re-evaluate the policies they create with the end results in mind.
It would be
a futile argument to make by saying that conjugal visitation would be a panacea for rehabilitating inmates, but if the programs
offer some benefits they should receive a close look from both policymakers and correctional administrators. Where conjugal
visitation programs do exist, they are nearly without exception reserved for married inmates. While married inmates do not
make up the majority of most prison
populations, their numbers are significant. Obviously, the incarceration
of a family member will have some degree of stress on the family unit. If it is possible to keep these families together throughout
the sentence, then the chances of rehabilitation will be greater.
Before conjugal visitation programs can be evaluated
fairly, there must be some understanding of the true definition of conjugal. This term is most often a synonym for sex. This
is not altogether true. Married couples in society are understood to have rights inherent to marriage and
these are called conjugal rights. Sex is but one component of these rights. Conjugal rights are those which enable married
persons to enjoy associating with one another, sympathizing together, confiding together, creating domestic happiness, sharing
a home together, having certain property rights which are endemic to marriage, preparing meals together, as well as having
intimacies with one another. Conjugal visitation programs can and should be more than inmates simply having sex with their
spouses. When applicable, it should involve those other variables which make a marriage so dynamic. Maintaining family ties
is a very laudable goal that correctional administrators must at the very least try to achieve. Strong family ties are so
important in the rehabilitative process and are shown to inhibit recidivism. The possibility of salvaging the family unit
while a spouse is incarcerated will take correctional programs that encourage and promote normal family behavior. The family,
correction officials and their staff play a major role in successfully bringing an inmate back into society.
The State Corrections Commissioner of Maryland
could give each Superintendent of each prison the authority to establish conjugal visitation programs. The facilities used
for the conjugal visits could be paid for by the families utilizing them. Some of Mississippi’s prisons
are equipped with apartments designed to make the conjugal visit more realistic for inmates and families. This supplement
to the original conjugal visitation program is called the Three-Day Family Visitation program. The inmate and their family
may live in the apartment for three days with only periodic checks from security. The staff is instructed to make the security
checks within a discrete manner so as to avoid embarrassing or harassing the participating family. The inmate will not be
required to report to work or school while on the three-day leave and will receive earned time as if still working. Families
having to travel over five hundred miles to visit an inmate family member may be allowed a five-day visit. Unlike the regular
conjugal visitation facilities the apartments are not free. Inmates and families must pay a fee for the usage of the apartments.
The New York State Department of Correctional Services has the Family Reunion Program which aims to strengthen family ties
to help inmates have a smooth adjustment upon release. The program is similar to Mississippi’s and California’s
conjugal visitations which consists of the family having overnight visits in private apartments. The program has yielded results
such as improving inmate discipline and the New York inmates were less likely to be re-incarcerated. Participating families have shown more cohesiveness and adaptiveness (both husband/wife relations
and parent/child relations). The post-release relationship between an inmate and family is difficult. Correction administrators
should encourage and push for family involvement at the beginning, the middle, and at the end of an inmate
sentence. A successful transition into the community will inhibit recidivism significantly. Many spouses and families of inmates
in the Maryland Correctional System feel that everything is done by prison officials to discourage family visitation. This
makes the inmate and the family frustrated. Which cause behavioral problems with the inmate.
There are several states participating in conjugal/family
visitation programs, those include, Mississippi, New York, California, South Carolina, Washington, Connecticut, Minnesota,
New Mexico, and Georgia. There is a need for the State of Maryland to cautiously experiment in some type of conjugal/family
visitation to strengthen both the family and the societal bond.
There is also the religious aspects of the marital
bond. People are allowed to be married while the inmate is incarcerated but never allowed to consummate that marriage.
Certain religions do not recognize marriage without consummation. Simply because the husband is incarcerated the wife should
not suffer also. Many of the married spouses of inmates want to bear their husband’s child and are not able to in the
State of Maryland. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled that prisoners have a “constitutional
right to procreate” unless the state can show unavoidable security risks or administrative problems.
Some may point out certain negative aspects of
conjugal visitation such as negative attitudes of non-participating inmates; facilities are not available; problems with security,
abuse of power and common-law relationships or homosexual relationships; no administrative support; the sexual
nature of the visits; welfare babies; or contraband exchange. However, all of these problems are not without the possibility
of being resolved. Careful planning in the processing of visitors in and out of prisons can alleviate many of the problems
that are associated with the program. Moreover, correctional officials can devise a classification system to successfully
screen out problematic inmates. Qualified correctional administrators should not have a problem in implementing a successful
conjugal visitation program in the State of Maryland. The arguments against conjugal visitation programs are insubstantial.
Conjugal visitation can be an asset to the criminal justice system if used wisely and responsibly.