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March 2013Vol. 14, No. 2State Prison Visitation Policies

While research shows that visitation with friends and family members can help prison inmates maintain community connections that can lead to reduced recidivism and improved outcomes, there is no uniform policy for prison visitation across the States. In a new report, Prison Visitation Policies: A Fifty State Survey, researchers Chesa Boudin, Trevor Stutz, and Aaron Litman from the Yale University Law School, collected and analyzed visitation policies and regulations from all 50 States and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Their analysis shows that visitation policies regarding the length and frequency of visitation allowed, approving and screening visitors, and monitoring of visits vary considerably from State to State and even across institutions within a State.

Some States have policy directives addressing visits by children of inmates, and these policies can range from ones that prohibit toys in the visiting room to those that promote child-friendly visiting rooms, including toys, games, and rule enforcement sensitive to children. Many States offer some form of extended daytime visit, and some offer overnight family visits, although there is no consistent length of time allotted for an "extended" visit. "Family" in some States includes only children or only spouses (and sometimes domestic partners), while in other States family includes all immediate family members and legal guardians. For example, Nebraska allows overnight visits only in one women's facility and only for children under age 6. South Dakota provides weekend-long visits for incarcerated mothers and their children.

The report also looks at recent developments in some States to utilize virtual visitation techniques, such as videoconferencing or video telephones, to extend visitation opportunities between inmates and family members who live far from the prison or children who may be intimidated by in-person visits.

Prison Visitation Policies: A Fifty State Survey is available from the Social Science Research Network: