Current Views of Inmate Visiting
While there seems
to be an acceptance of the value of family ties and visits with inmates (Holt and Miller, 1972), there is a dearth of information
about either what is going on in the prisons across the United States or what correctional administrators think about inmate
visiting. To obtain an estimate of what's currently happening in the field, all fifty states, four U.S. territories, the Federal
Bureau of Prisons and the District of Columbia were surveyed.
A current review
of the literature produced results very similar to the findings of past investigators; namely, there are very few studies
available about inmate visits and the relationships of such visits to institutional adjustment, program participation, continuation
of the marriage or general post-institutional adjustment. Most articles available tend to be descriptive and deal with either
the assumed positive effects of visiting on inmate adjustment (e.g., Morris, 1965; Cobean and Power, 1978; Fox, 1981), the
problems of the suffering of the family as the result of incarceration of the male breadwinner (e.g., Brodsky, 1975; Schneller,
1975, Hinds, 1981), or the difficulties encountered by families in obtaining services, especially visiting assistance (e.g.,
Fishman and Cassin, 1981). A now famous study by Holt and Miller (1972) found that those who consistently received visits
from relatives or friends tended to have a more favorable parole outcome. In fact, based on outcome during the first year
following release, six times as many prisoners who had no visitors had failed, as compared to those who had frequent visits
from at least three different relatives or friends. Similar findings had been reported earlier by Glaser (1964), which indicated
a parole success rate of 74 percent for those with active and sustained visits from family, as compared to 43 percent for
those without visits. Parole violation rates were inversely related to the number of family visits in a study of 17,000 men
paroled over a 20 year period (Ohlin, 1954), with the parole violation rate of 66 percent for those with no visits, compared
with 26 percent for those who had 2 or 3 visits per month.
All of these studies
suggest a strong relationship between no visits and poor post-institutional adjustment, but while showing a consistent trend,
still only depict a correlational relationship. Causality cannot be determined from these studies. However, the work of "M-2"
presents somewhat stronger evidence, because they approached the problem with the predictive hypothesis that providing visitors
would have a positive impact. They started with the question, "Can anything be done about visits for those who would ordinarily
not receive any?" "M-2" sponsors seemed to think so. Over a number of years, that organization has managed a program of recruiting
and training volunteers to match with inmates who have limited social ties.
In the most recent
study of their program (EMT, 1987), 622 inmates released to parole in California between July 1983 and June 1985 were evaluated
at the 6- ,12- and 24-month follow-up periods. At each follow-up period, the relationship between some visits vs. none and
parole success was statistically significant. In addition, it was found that the number of visits played a vital role (at
12 months, for example, 68.5 percent of those who had received 12 or more visits had satisfactory outcomes, as compared to
38.7 percent for those who had received no visits). Thus, it seems clear that there is a strong relationship between visits
and parole outcome and between the degree of contact and parole success.
Conjugal or Private Family Visiting
The attitudes about
conjugal visiting exhibit some strange turns. The positive view of such programs was early presented by Hopper (1969), while
Johns (1971) felt that even the positive attitudes would not result in action, and outlines the reasons for his belief. These
include: 1) the negative attitudes of inmates who would be unable to participate (increased sexual tension, jealousy, hostility
toward inmates who are authorized to have sex); 2) the lack of available facilities (which are not likely to be made available);
3) the severity of problems of administration especially regarding security, abuse of power, and common law relationships;
4) the lack of strong administrative support; 5) the sexual nature of conjugal visits (not in tune with the culture
of the times - too degrading for the wife of a male inmate); 6) possible additional children born to "inadequate families"
of male inmates, requiring support from public welfare, 7) Increased health care costs of female inmates
who become pregnant or contract diseases, and 8) the belief that masturbation by inmates effectively minimizes sexual tension
with none of the additional costs or risks associated with providing them with opportunities to have intercourse. Interestingly,
although recognized as a positive release mechanism, masturbation is prohibited in every jurisdiction although some choose
not to sanction practitioners who do not create problems. Balough surveyed 52 wardens (1964) and found that only 13 percent
approved of conjugal visits. Shortly thereafter, Vedder andKind (1965) found nearly twice the percentage of positive responses
from 49 directors of state or federal institutions.
In terms of studies
of level of activity in this area, little objective information is available, and is quite dated (Markely, 1972; Burstein,
1977). Hayner (1972) reported that at the time of his contact, two jurisdictions had operational private family visiting programs,
with two others in the planning stage.
More recently, the
Federal Bureau of Prisons (1981) investigated private family visiting via a task force. They looked at the operation of such
programs in Minnesota, New York, Maryland and California. They felt the program, despite the statements about the family,
placed too great an emphasis on sex and failed to serve long termers, and that a furlough program would serve to meet the
needs of those serving short periods of incarceration. The final recommendation from that effort stated that private family
visiting not replace nor supplement the home furlough of the Bureau, but suggested that family visiting might be tested on
a well researched basis for those serving longer periods in prison.
The findings presented
here are based upon responses from 56 jurisdictions representing some 895 institutions. A 100 percent return was achieved
for the survey, although a few call-backs were required for a few participants. Questionnaires were completed by directors
of corrections in only a few cases; most were completed by central office staff members. Thus, attitudinal measures must be
accepted with the assumption that subordinates completing the questionnaire reflect in a general way the values of departmental
Importance of Inmate
asked to rate their view of the importance of inmate visiting. Of the 54 responding to the item scaled from 1 to 10 (10 being
the highest), the ratings ranged from 5 through 10 with the median and mode at 10, with a mean of slightly over 9. Judging
by the manner in which two respondents marked their questionnaire, some seemed to want to rate visiting at about 12 on a scale
from 1 to 10. Thus, it would appear that most departments of corrections place a high value on inmate visiting.
Private Family Visiting
from jurisdictions that did not have private family visiting indicated any interest in exploring the development. Only one
jurisdiction without a program expressed positive interest, and that was an organization that had proposed a plan for the
legislature, but the issue was not pushed for budgetary reasons.
Each of the eight
jurisdictions that had an operational program was asked to react to a list of specific gains that might be derived from the
program. The item most endorsed were, "Improve inmate morale and attitude" and "Reduce disciplinary problems," with seven
positive responses. These were closely followed by, "Better participation in institutional programs" and "More positive planning
for parole," with five and four endorsements. Only one jurisdiction reported the view that Private Family Visiting might reduce
homosexuality, while two departments indicated that they felt that such a program would strengthen family ties and result
in fewer sexual assaults. Several jurisdictions added comments addressing the effect of conjugal visits on inmates who were
not authorized to participate. One jurisdiction which apparently closely observes and records both male and female inmates’
sexual activities noted a much higher level of masturbation among inmates who are married, receive supervised visits regularly
from spouses but are not allowed to have conjugal visits for various reasons. They surmise that physical proximity, i.e.,
kissing, hugging, talking face to face, without being allowed to engage in intercourse greatly increases their sexual needs.
The same jurisdiction also noted increased masturbation among inmates who do have conjugal visits, surmising that intercourse
and other sexual activities increased their general level of interest in, or need for, sex. It appears that having sex regularly
increases prisoner’s need for it.
Female inmates who
had conjugal visits masturbated an average of six times during the week preceding visits and twelve times during the week
Female inmates who
had supervised visits masturbated an average of eight times during the week preceding visits and fifteen times during the
week following a visit.
Female inmates who
did not have visits masturbated an average of five times per week.
Male inmates who
had conjugal visits masturbated an average of eight times during the week preceding visits and thirteen times during the week
following a visit.
Male inmates who
had supervised visits masturbated an average of eight times during the week preceding visits and sixteen times during the
week following a visit.
Male inmates who
did not have visits masturbated an average of seven times per week.
The Number and Nature
of Private Family Visiting Programs
have a program of private family visiting somewhere in their department. "Private family visiting" as used here, was defined
as a man and a woman being alone or with their family for a period of time, usually including overnight. It includes conjugal
visits, but might also include, in addition to children, other significant family members such as parents, aunts and uncles,
etc. The level reported marks a major expansion over the level of a few years ago (some of these programs are in early start-up
phases), but falls considerably below the level suggested by the information in the Directory published by the American Correctional
Association (1987). From a quick review of that document, one would conclude that 18 jurisdictions (16 states and 2 territories)
had private family visits in at least one of their adult institutions. The difference would seem to be related to definitions
of the program. Even with the seeming clarity of the definition presented above, there were some ambiguous responses.
programs existed prior to 1970, three came into operation during the 1970-1980 decade, and three have been initiated since
In all, some 43
correctional institutions seem to be involved. The number of visits during 1986 varied from an estimate of approximately 100
for one department to over 40,000 visits for another jurisdiction. Most seem to group in the 3,000-5,000 range, with the most
typical response being around 3,000.
most programs place the responsibility at the institutional level and under treatment programs. One jurisdiction has the operation
centralized under the jurisdiction of the religious department, which may be valuable in ameliorating any negative public
reactions to the program.
Most programs are
now a part of regular state budget appropriations, although some were initiated with donations. Currently, only two jurisdictions
are heavily dependent on donations, and one of those receives some budgetary support. One jurisdiction supports its program
by charging a nominal rent for the facilities used.
The programs have
not been without their problems. In responding to a check-list of possible problems, jurisdictions indicate that problems
encountered have arranged from drugs and other contraband to falsification of records (each indicated by four jurisdictions).
One jurisdiction indicated no problems, one indicated escape problems, and one jurisdiction with more extensive experience
reported, "All of the above." Apparently, these problems were appropriately dealt with through administrative and procedural
adjustments, as all presently active programs indicate a continuous operation since initiation.
Discussion and Conclusions
continues to be of special concern to the correctional field, with almost all respondents rating this program at the high
end of a value scale. Reflecting this commitment, the vast majority of the jurisdictions, as noted in a earlier report (Bennett,1987),
have managed to maintain a fairly high level of support for inmate visiting, with length of time per week available for visits
remaining the same or increasing in a vast majority of the jurisdictions responding. This was achieved despite tight budgets
and ever increasing prison populations. Along similar lines, most of the jurisdictions were able to increase the number of
visits per month allowable per inmate over 1980 levels. However, since only 70 percent of the correctional systems were able
to increase the space available for visiting at a pace matching the increase in inmate populations, one can only speculate
that the increased number of visits are taking place in a somewhat more cramped situation. Support for this view is provided
by the finding that of the 17 jurisdictions unable to keep up with space demands, 14 (82%) managed to maintain 1980 levels
of length and
frequency of visits.
The attitude toward
conjugal or private family visiting is very positive for those who have operational programs, but quite unaccepting by those
without programs. The dominant theme among jurisdictions which do not have programs seems to be that sexual deprivation is
part of the correctional or rehabilitative regimen. They appear to view intercourse with spouses as unnecessary, citing masturbation
as an effective alternative to lower tension. The growth of such programs has been slow but steady, with programs operational
in only two jurisdictions prior to 1970, increasing to eight at the present time - an operational program being defined as
a jurisdiction within which at least one institution has a program involving private family visiting.
Despite the many
reasons put forth as to why such programs cannot work (see for example Johns, 1971), those jurisdictions with programs seem
to feel the values far outweigh the problems and inconveniences of such efforts. However, given the lack of interest on the
part of those not participating it seems doubtful that the concept will expand rapidly beyond its present level.
of prisoner-family ties and parent-child bonds is increasingly becoming recognized as an important corrections and social
services objective (Holt & Miller, 1970; Howser & McDonald, 1982; Leclair, 1978). Research has demonstrated the importance
of frequent visiting between separated parents and their children to the well-being of parents and children and to the eventual
reunification of separated families (Fanshel & Shinn, 1978; Greif, 1979; Hess, 1987; Lanier, 1987, and Wallerstein, 1983).
Parenting programs and children's centers are being established in correctional settings, reflecting the emerging interest
in prisoner-family ties (Adalist-Estrin, 1986; Brozan, 1986; Hairston & Lockett, 1987).
Despite the recognition
of the importance of parent-child communication in correctional settings, there has been no systematic review of current policies
regulating such communications. Prisoner-family communication policies demonstrate, however, the value states place on the
maintenance of prisoners' family relationships and on parent-child contact. Policies provide the context for visiting practices
and procedures in individual institutions and provide guidance for the allocation of resources, such as staff and space, for
visiting. They inhibit or facilitate the development of family programs in institutions and the ability of private agencies
to serve the prison population.
Policies, in addition, provide clarity for parents, children, and children's caretakers
concerning visiting eligibility, conditions, and purposes. It is, therefore, important to examine the content of visiting
policies nationally in order to identify existing patterns, assess variations from established standards, and determine whether
policies support innovative program efforts.