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Visiting day at a prison - Things you should be aware of

Visiting an inmate for the first time can be overwhelming, frustrating and confusing an experience you will endure in your life.  First-time visitors are not prepared for nor know what to expect in the process of an inmate visit.

The panicked questions will enter your mind like, is it a contact visit? Are we on a video-visitation system? Is this through the glass?  What can I wear? What can I bring? Are my kids allowed to come? What Identification do I need to present to the correctional staff?  

The following is a quick reference guide for about everything you will need to know when going to visit your inmate. Some of the answers to many of the frequently asked questions you may have.

Types of Visitation

There are several different types of visitation for inmates.  Video visitation is becoming more common and in some instances can be done from the comfort of your own home.  Video visitation works similar to the way you would use Skype.  Non-contact or telephone visitation is when you are behind a glass partition, the inmate and you have a phone which you can talk to one another on, but the glass separates you.  Contact visitation is the most common and generally the most desired form of visiting an inmate.  You are able to sit, usually at a small table and be with the inmate for a short period of time.  Although contact can occur between you and the inmate, you are limited in how much touching can take place.  Usually, a brief hug hello and goodbye are all that are allowed, holding hands are usually restricted, the guards will yell at you if you cross the line. Read the Do's and Don'ts of visiting an inmate for more details.

Before Your Visit

Prior to your visitation at the prison or jail, you will need to be in contact with your inmate.  Almost all inmates have something called a "visitors list".  At some facilities, the inmate will be allowed a list of 10  visitors that can visit, other institutions allow more.  The inmate needs to know the visitor's full name, address, phone number and sometimes more information.  If you think your inmate may not know all this information, you should mail them a letter, or be sure to tell them the next time they call.  Some facilities will require all prospective visitors to fill out a visiting application, and certain correctional institutions only make the form available if the inmate requests it.

The Visiting Application

Not all institutions will require you to fill out a visitor’s application, but most do.  This is just a questionnaire you must fill out that has your name, address, and asks questions such as are you a convicted felon, have you been incarcerated or worked in the department of corrections.  Answer all of these questions truthfully, as they will be using the information to do a background check on you, and then make a decision if you will be approved or denied visitation.

We have compiled all of the visitor applications that are available for jails and prisons in the United States.  If you need to fill out a visiting application, or you are just curious as to what the form looks like you can view the inmate visiting application on our site here.  Please note that some of these applications may not be used at select institutions, and the inmate must send a signed application for you to fill out.
Some reasons why your visiting application may be denied are as follows:
•    You provided false information on your application
•    You are a convicted felon
•    You have served time in a correctional institution, or have worked in the department of corrections
•    You have outstanding warrants
•    You have a protective order out against you or the inmate
•    You are deemed a security risk by the facility
•    You are on PTI, probation, or parole (some exceptions can be made to this)
•    You are on another inmate's visitation list at the same institution already
Most facilities will not inform you of the status of your application, usually, they leave it entirely up to the inmate to let you know if you were approved or denied so you must be in constant contact with them.  If you are denied visitation most states have a process of appealing the decision, however, the appeal must be filed within a certain time frame.

Preparing For Your Visit

After your approval, you will want to check a schedule of the visitation hours.  We provide the visiting hours for many of the institutions on our site, just search for the facilities name, or select the state the inmate is located in from our homepage.  You may still want to call and double check the hours, and make sure visitation has not been canceled for any reason, as visiting hours can change or be canceled at any time and without notice.  A correctional facility may cancel visiting if the facility goes on lockdown if an inmate has escaped, or for any other reason, the facility deems necessary.  Also if an inmate is in solitary, or 'the hole', their visiting privilege becomes suspended.  

Once you know the visiting hours and have planned which day you will be going on you will need to make sure you have the proper identification with you.  All department of corrections vary slightly in what kinds of identification they will accept, but for sure a valid state issued photo ID or photo driver’s license will be enough.

Visiting with Minors

When visiting with minors or children you may have to fill out a special visiting with the minors authorization form.  If they are over a certain age (under 15) they need to have a school-issued photo ID or birth certificate to accompany you to visitation.  Minors are never allowed to go alone to visitation, and must always be accompanied by a parent or guardian.  Also, some inmates cannot have any minors visit if they are incarcerated for a crime against a child.  Small children or babies may still need to have their birth certificate to gain entry but usually they are more relaxed in the requirements, they are not, however, lax about the behavior of children, and if you fail to control your child or keep their behavior in line you can be removed from the visiting area altogether.

Dress Code

If you are visiting an institution you should be aware that all facilities have a dress code.  Staff will reject you from visiting if you violate the dress code, here are the general rules:
•    Do not wear any clothing that resembles the inmate’s clothes, or staffs clothes.  This means if the inmates where denim you cannot, if they wear white, you cannot, if they were khaki, well...you guessed it you cannot.
•    Do not wear medical scrubs or any sort of uniform, as this presents a security risk
•    Shirts and shoes are mandatory
•    Any clothing that exposes chest, back, thighs, midsection or any other large amount of flesh is prohibited
•    Any see-through fabric is restricted from being worn
•    Sleeveless shirts are prohibited
•    No shorts or skirts that are above the knee should be worn (no slits above the knee either)
•    Offensive pictures or language on clothing is prohibited
•    Tight clothing, including spandex, tank tops, leggings, tights etc. are prohibited
•    Jewelry is restricted so it is a good idea to not wear any
Some of these rules are obviously up to the interpretation of the guard on duty, and they make the final decision on what is allowed to be worn.  We recommend you always bring a change of clothing and leave it in your car, this way in the event something you are wearing is deemed in violation of the dress code you can just change.

Arrival at the Facility and Search

You should arrive at visitation a few minutes early, sometimes as early as 15-20 minutes so that you can fill out more paperwork.  Do not arrive any earlier as you will get into trouble.  Upon your arrival to the facility parking lot, you can expect to be searched.  This means your car and everything in it can be searched by staff, and sometimes even canine units (dogs).  Most facilities are now tobacco-free, meaning you cannot even bring cigarettes with you to visitation (you can, however, leave them in your car).  Once you enter the facility expect you and your belongings to be searched again, usually by a pat down, metal detector and also possibly by dogs.  If you refuse to be searched you will be banned from visiting.  Please note that in some instances people must consent to a strip search as a condition of visiting, a person can refuse but they will not be refused visitation.  Strip searches are rarely required though, so do not let this deter you from visiting.  Some institutions have used ion scanners, which actually pick up on small particles of drugs being present.  The scanners often gave false positives and people had to be strip searched because of it which is why they are not used so much anymore, dogs are much more reliable at finding contraband.

What Items Can You Bring to Visitation?

This really differs from one facility to another, as some facilities will have lockers you can rent for about a quarter that you can store your belongings in, others do not.  In general, you can only bring your ID, single car key, eyeglasses (for medical), small bills or change for the vending machines that are in the visitation room (highly recommend this because you can buy your inmate some snacks for while you visit). If you have a small child or baby you may be allowed to bring a single bottle and diaper to visiting.  You should never bring medications, cigarettes, or any illegal substances to visitation as this can be cause for immediate revocation of visiting privilege and possible criminal charges. 

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