In recent years, around the popularity of scripted shows such as orange is the new black and Wentworthreality show like Detained abroad for 60 days, and imprisoned girl, same as true crime files make murdererInterest in the justice system and prisons soared.
People want to know what life in prison is really like, but is it possible to know what life in prison is like if you can actually live in prison without committing crimes? Can you visit the prison?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
- Can you visit a prison that is currently functioning?
- Can you visit the closed prison?
Can you visit a prison that is currently functioning?
While each state has its own rules about this, generally you cannot visit prisons that are currently functioning. Federal prisons are also not allowed to visit. Here’s the thing, a prison is not a zoo. You can’t just show up at a prison and ask for a tour. Wardens would be incredibly skeptical of the request, and letting outsiders into the prison walls was a huge security risk.
Now, religious organizations and lawyers are exceptions. Some prisons do allow religious groups to go behind the prison walls and talk to prisoners, but it’s not really a visit.
For lawyers, they are sometimes allowed on prison grounds for legal reasons, but any outside guests must be approved by the warden.
Some older prisons, such as Folsom Prison in California, have a museum that you can visit. However, you are not allowed to leave the museum or anywhere other than the viewing rooms. To visit an inmate in a visiting room, you must be on an approved visiting list and there is a process in place.
Many states also have Fear of Immediate Family programs, which will bring in groups of young people who have run afoul of the law for petty crimes. These groups will go into prisons and try to intimidate them into living a good life and avoiding jail time.
The only way for an outsider to actually get inside the prison walls and learn about life inside is by volunteering. Most prisons allow volunteers to come in and teach classes or lead some kind of group or organization. However, if you just want to visit the prison, it’s not possible.
Can you visit the closed prison?
If the prison is closed, the rules are completely different. There are many prisons across the country that closed many years ago and now have guided or self-guided tours. San Francisco’s Alcatraz is probably one of the most popular prisons, receiving millions of visitors each year.
The Ohio State Reformatory is another popular destination, as it was the location for The Shawshank Redemption. The Society for Prison Restoration offers a self-guided tour called “The Shawshank Trail,” which doesn’t include the sewers.
Yuma Regional Prison in Arizona and Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania are also popular tourist attractions. Yuma has always been in Westerns, 3:10 to YumaEastern State is often featured on ghost-hunting TV shows.
The Liberty Hotel in Boston was the Charles Street Jail until it closed in 1973. Now, it’s a five-star luxury hotel where visitors can dine in prison-themed restaurants.
Many states also offer tours of old prisons, such as the Old Joliet Prison Tour in Illinois and the Missouri State Penitentiary Tour in Jefferson City, Missouri.
Often, the only way to understand prison life is to go to prison after committing a crime. However, I do not recommend this. Sometimes, when a new prison opens, they allow the public to tour it before inmates are transferred to the prison. But again, it just depends on the facility.
The closest you can get to a chance to visit a prison is to visit one that has been closed for a long time.
Have you ever visited an old prison? Let us know in the comments below.