States That Allow Conjugal Visits

Prison visitation policies vary dramatically among states, but when it comes to conjugal visits, most states agree they are a thing of the past.

By | Updated by Rebecca Pirius, Attorney
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Prisoners who maintain close ties with spouses, partners, and family members are more likely to successfully reenter society upon release and less likely to commit crimes. A number of studies support this common-sense conclusion. In spite of this evidence, most states no longer allow conjugal visits.

What Is a "Conjugal Visit"?

Typically, a person incarcerated in jail or prison is not allowed to spend private time with a spouse or domestic partner. Historically and at present, certain states have instituted programs to allow certain prisoners to have "extended family visits." An "extended family visit" may be an opportunity for the prisoner to spend time with his or her relatives and children, but it is also used as a euphemism for conjugal visits.

A conjugal visit is private time that a prisoner may spend with a spouse or married partner. The idea behind such visitation is to allow inmates to have intimate contact, that is, sex, with their partners. Depending on the state's extended family visitation program, a conjugal or extended family visit may last a few hours or overnight.

Do Any States Allow Conjugal Visits?

In 1993, 17 states had conjugal visitation programs. By the 2000s, that number was down to six, with only California, Connecticut, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, and Washington allowing such visits. And by 2015, Mississippi and New Mexico eliminated their programs.

For the most part, states no longer refer to "conjugal" visits. The primary focus has shifted more to family time. California refers to contact visits. Connecticut and Washington have extended family visits. New York calls its program a family reunion program.

Conjugal visits are considered a privilege for prisoners who have exhibited good behavior during their term of incarceration. The U.S. Supreme Court and several federal courts have held that prisoners do not have a constitutional right to conjugal visits.

Prisoners and their spouses have filed lawsuits in several federal and state courts, arguing that denial of conjugal visits violates:

  • the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment
  • prisoner and spousal rights to marital privacy
  • the right to procreate, and
  • the First Amendment right to religious freedom.

Courts in these cases have rejected all of these arguments, finding no constitutional right to a conjugal visit.

Conjugal and Extended Visitation Privileges Are Highly Regulated

To be granted a conjugal visit or extended family visit, generally, both the inmate and visitors must submit applications. Common rules include:

  • requiring that the prisoner seeking such visits have a clean prison record of good behavior and no violence
  • prohibiting visitation for prisoners incarcerated for child abuse or domestic violence, and
  • restricting visits to prisoners in low-security prisons only.

States also regulate who is a family member. Often the visitor must have a family or blood relation, have a history of visiting the inmate in prison (or a valid reason for not doing so), and undergo a background check.

Generally, all prison visitors (whether arriving for a conjugal or another type of visit) must submit to a physical search for weapons and other contraband. Visitors may bring very few and highly regulated items into the prison. No drugs or alcohol are ever allowed, nor are cell phones or other electronic devices. There may be other restrictions, including rules about food or gifts that may be allowed or prohibited. Visitors may also be turned away if they are not wearing appropriate clothing.

Check With a Lawyer

The laws and policies pertaining to prison visitation change regularly. If you have questions about conjugal or extended visitation privileges in your state, contact the prison authority (often called the department of corrections or rehabilitation) or consult with a lawyer experienced in the laws in your area.

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