Whenever you are preparing to visit a prison inmate for the first time, there are definitely a few things you need to know. Arriving at the prison without adequate preparation may result in prison staff refusing your visit. And, since most people have to visit their incarcerated loved ones, you definitely want to know the rules ahead of time; you don’t want to waste a day and be disappointed.
As I said before, nothing is universal when it comes to prisons, as each facility has its own rules and operating system. However, prison visiting rooms also share some commonalities.
So let’s get into today’s topic: Visiting Prisoners for the First Time – 10 Things You Need to Know.
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
- Know the dress code
- Leave non-essential items at home or in your car
- no electronics
- double check the schedule
- Make sure you are approved
- ready to search
- arrive on time
- Bring dollar bills and change
- No purses or purses, just clear bags
1. Know the dress code
One of the most important things you need to know is the dress code for the visiting room. Correctional officers will not allow you to enter the visiting room if you are not dressed properly. Every prison requires conservative, modest clothing in the visiting room.
At Prison Insight, we do our best to let you know the exact dress code for each facility. However, remember to be conservative if the prison does not release this information. In other words, act like you’re dressing for your court date.
Avoid tight and see-through clothing, ripped clothing, shorts, and exposed midriffs. Best to keep it simple with a plain shirt and trousers. Just don’t wear clothes with gang references, profanity, or sexually explicit images.
Also, wear shoes and socks (no sandals or bare feet) and make sure to wear underwear as this is required. Another important thing to remember is to avoid wearing the same color as the prisoner’s uniform.
Some wear khaki, others blue, green or orange. Pay attention to the color of the prisoner’s clothes, don’t wear them.
2. Leave non-essential items at home or in the car
Contraband is a huge problem in prisons, so visitors are not allowed to bring any items with them when visiting prisoners. Most facilities will limit visitors to only bring photo ID and money for vending machines.
Visitors with infants can also bring nappies and food for the children, and visitors needing life-saving medicine can usually bring a dose in its original container.
When you check-in, staff will let you know what is allowed in the visitation room. If you are carrying any prohibited items, you will be asked to bring these items back to your vehicle or place them in a locker in the lobby.
3. No electronics
Electronic devices are absolutely not allowed in any prison visiting room. You must lock your phone, tablet, watch and computer in your car or at home. If you would like to have a picture taken with your inmate, most facilities have some kind of picture program where you can purchase pictures taken by a prison photographer.
4. Double check the schedule
Visiting schedules can be very confusing as not every prisoner is available each time a visiting room opens. Some prisons rotate their schedules by housing unit, while others rotate by inmate ID number. There are many reasons why visiting schedules may change, so be sure to double check before leaving. It’s also a good idea to call the facility before you leave to make sure the jail is not locked.
When I first went to jail, my dad drove three hours to visit me, which I thought was a normal visitation day. However, it was a special “foodie visit” day for another housing unit and I wasn’t able to visit him. He was turned away and I felt bad because I didn’t check in advance. It would save a lot of time and heartbreak if one of us would double check it.
5. Make sure you are approved
Most facilities require visitors to obtain approval from the Department of Corrections before being allowed to visit inmates. Each facility has its own visitor application form, which must be completed in advance and approved by DOC.
In the Prison Insight directory, each facility has access rules. When available, we’ve provided a link to access the application form so you can fill out one and have it sent right away, rather than waiting for your inmate to mail you a paper form to fill out.
6. Be ready to search
You will be searched before you are allowed into the visiting room. In addition to going through a metal detector, you will also be patted down for contraband. Some facilities go a step further by searching for drugs through K-9. If they think you are carrying contraband, you will be detained and searched further.
Anyone trying to bring drugs or electronics into a correctional facility is likely to be arrested, and they could face felony charges of their own.
7. Arrive on time
When it comes to time, prisons don’t play. Everything is on a strict, tight schedule so you can’t be late. If you do not arrive in time, you will not be allowed to visit. Make sure you know the processing time ahead of time so you know when you should be there.
Visiting rooms can also be overcrowded, so arriving early or on time is essential if you want to make the most of your visiting hours.
8. Bring dollar bills and change
Most facilities will allow you to bring around $20 in US bills and vending machine change. While some prisons allow debit cards, most only allow cash or coins to be sold, and they must be placed in clear plastic bags.
I cannot stress enough how important it is for my visitors to bring some spare change for the vending machines. A cold Coke with a vending machine cheeseburger and some Fritos has never tasted as good as it does in a prison visiting room.
9. No purses or purses, just clear bags
For the few items that are allowed into the visiting room, you will need to carry them in a clear plastic bag – even baby items. Officials want to be able to see everything at all times, so everything has to be transparent and bags are searched.
While visiting family and friends is essential during the inmate rehabilitation process, it is not easy. Seeing loved ones in prison uniform can be difficult and time flies. Seems like you have to leave within seconds of arriving.
As a former prisoner, I know how wonderful it is to have pleasant, regular conversations with friends and family in the visiting room. There’s no need to do anything special or think too much, just show up and talk.
Get ready to experience a range of serious emotions. It was always amazing to see my family and friends leave my cell for a few hours in the visiting room, but it was always distressing to see them walk out the door and not be able to go with them.
Is there anything I didn’t cover about prison visits that you’d still like to know? Ask me in the comments below.