Preparing for a Prison Visit
Tip #1: Consider the Research
According to various studies performed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), prisoners who remain in close contact with supportive loved ones have lower recidivism rates.
That’s one of the most important reasons to focus on the positives of prison visits. By
staying connected with a loved one, you benefit him or her, his or her family, and the community.
HHS reports that almost 3 million children in the U.S. have at least one parent in prison. Visits to these inmates strengthen their family bonds.
Tip #2: Get on the Approved List before Visiting Your Loved One in Prison
Contact your loved one and the facility prior to the visit. Most inmates have a “visitors list.” He or she may fill out up to about 10 visitors. The inmate must provide the visitors’ names, addresses, telephone numbers, and other information as needed. If you don’t believe your loved one knows these details, provide him with this information in a letter or during a phone call. The facility may only make the form available to the inmate if he or she asks for it.
To ensure you’re on the list of preapproved visitors (persons at least age 18), the prison
will probably ask you to fill out a form. The information you provide is used by the facility to perform a background check to deny or approve visitation. You may also need to fill out authorization forms for children.
If the prison doesn’t ask you to fill out a form, be sure to ask. Most prisons require this step. Most forms are simple questionnaires that request your name and address. The form may ask whether 1) you’re a convicted felon, 2) if you’ve been incarcerated, or 3) held a job in the department of corrections.
Tell the truth when answering these questions. The facility uses this information to submit a background check. It will make a decision about your visitation based on the results.
Your application to visit may be denied because:
- You didn’t tell the truth on the application (provided false information)
- You’re a convicted felon
- You’ve got outstanding warrants
- You’ve previously served time at a correctional institution (or you worked there)
- You’re considered a security risk
- You’ve got an outstanding protective order against you (or the inmate)
- You’re on parole, probation, or PTI (the facility may make an exception in some cases)
- You’re already on another inmate’s visitors list at that facility
You probably won’t be informed about your application status by the facility. Most allow the inmate to share whether your request to visit was approved or denied. It’s up to you to maintain regular contact with him or her.
If your request to visit is denied, ask the facility about the appeals process. You will need to file the appeal within a certain period of time. Consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer if you have questions about your prison visitation appeal letter.
Tip #3: Spiritual Advisers Must Receive Approval to Visit from the Warden’s Office
If you’re planning to visit an inmate as a spiritual adviser, you must submit to the warden’s process.
Tip #4: Consider the Facility’s Visitation Limits
Each inmate is allowed one visit during the weekend. The visit may last up to two hours but, if unforeseen circumstances arise, the duration of the visit may be cut short.
Tip #5: Clean Your Pickup Bed
If you drive a pickup truck, your truck bed must be completely clear—you can’t haul anything into the facility grounds. Your vehicle must be secured in the parking area, with doors locked and windows sealed.
Tip #6: Special Circumstances
If you must travel more than 300 miles to visit your loved one in prison, ask to arrange a special visit. Contact the facility warden’s office well in advance. He or she must approve your request for a special visit.
A special visit may be up to four hours’ long and may occur over two consecutive days.
Special visit requests are limited. The inmate may have a special visit once per month.
Tip #7: Arrive on Time to Visit Your Loved One in Prison
Before planning a trip to visit your family member, check the visitation hours. Most facilities usually offer visitation on weekends and holidays. Your loved one’s facility may also offer additional visiting days.
It’s also a good idea to confirm that the day and time for the visit. Your visit can be cancelled without prior notice.
If you find the facility’s visitation hours posted online, it’s still a good idea to contact the prison to confirm these hours are correct.
Realize that your loved one’s visitation privileges may be automatically suspended if he or she is disruptive or placed in solitary confinement.
If your loved one is in a federal prison, check the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ site to review the list of federal facilities. If he or she is in a private or state prison, contact the facility directly.
Tip #8: Know the Items You May Bring to a Prison Visit
Inquire about the facility policy concerning what’s allowed in the visitation room. In many facilities, visitors are allowed to bring their driver’s license (or other government- issued ID), change for the vending machine (if available), a car key, and eyeglasses. Most facilities prohibit visitors from bringing mobile phones, computers, electronic devices, medications, tobacco/tobacco products, matches, lighters, or illegal substances. If you smoke, leave your smoking materials in your vehicle.
If you’re visiting a loved one in prison with a baby or small child, the facility may allow you to bring up to three diapers, two plastic nurser bottles (or sippy cups) into the visitation area as long as they’re in clear container bags. Confirm that these items are allowed before the visit.
The facility may also have rules that prohibit visitors from bringing gifts or food to the inmate. That’s one of the best reasons to bring extra change for the vending machine, if available. In Texas, the visitor is allowed to bring up to $25.00 in quarters. The quarters must be visible in a clear sandwich bag. Paper money isn’t allowed.
Tip #9: Dress Properly
Consider the setting. You must dress appropriately when visiting a loved one in prison. Don’t choose revealing or provocative clothing or wear quasi-military gear (or anything khaki or military green). You may be denied access if you violate the facility’s dress code policy. In addition:
- If facility personnel wear a certain color uniform, don’t wear that color on a
- Certain clothing, such as any type of uniform or medical scrubs, can place the visitor at risk.
- Wear a shirt and shoes. These clothing items are mandatory.
- Dress modestly. Avoid wearing anything that exposes the thighs, chest, midsection, back, etc.
- Don’t wear a sleeveless shirt.
- Don’t wear a skirt or shorts that fall above the knee.
- Avoid wearing skirts with a slit.
- Don’t wear tight clothes, e.g. tank tops, tights, spandex items, or leggings.
- Don’t wear jewelry on a prison visit.
The facility’s rules are open to the guard’s interpretation. It’s up to the guard to decide what clothing is objectionable.
For this reason, bring a change of clothes. Leave the clothing in your vehicle. If something you’re wearing to the prison visit is considered a dress code violation, you can change into the second set of clothes.
Tip #10: Arrive 15-20 Minutes Early (but no earlier than that)
Expect your vehicle to be searched when you arrive at the facility’s parking area. If you’re listening to the radio or another device in your vehicle, switch it off before you drive into the facility. Be quiet.
You may need extra time to fill out forms or other paperwork. You and your children may be searched before you’re allowed to enter the visiting room. You may receive a “pat-down” by a same-sex officer, search dogs, or be required to go through the metal detector.
If you refuse to be searched at the facility, your request to visit the inmate will be denied. Some individuals are asked to submit to a strip search. (This is a rare occurrence.) Visitors over age 18 must bring a valid government-issued identification, e.g. 1) state-issued driver’s license, 2) state-issued ID card, 3) Visa/Border-Crossing ID card, 4) passport, 5) military ID card, 6) State Department of Public Safety identification card.
You may need to fill out certain a visiting with minors authorization form. If the child is over a certain age (usually about age 14), he or she should bring a school-issued photo ID. Parents should bring birth certificates for all minor children on a prison visit, regardless of age.
Minors aren’t allowed to visit their loved one in prison alone. He or she must arrive with a parent or guardian.
If the inmate was incarcerated for certain crimes against children, he or she might not be allowed to receive minor visitors.
It may be ideal to leave the children at home for the first visit. That way, you’ll be able to tell them what to expect on a prison visit.
Tip #11: Show Respect to Prison Personnel
It’s important to be respectful. Be courteous to correctional personnel, prisoners, and other visitors.
Realize that, if you don’t listen to the staff’s directives, or if you’re considered disruptive or you present improper conduct, corrections personnel may terminate the visit and revoke the visitor’s future privileges.
Tip #12: Limit Displays of Affection
It’s important to limit displays of affection during a prison visit. Limit these expressions to hugs or handshakes at the start and end of the visit.
Correctional staff may expressly limit your ability to display affection. It may be necessary to prevent visitors from distributing contraband, for instance.
Tip #13: Supervise Your Children during a Prison Visit
If you bring children to a prison visit, supervise them. Any adverse or disruptive behavior may mean losing visitation privileges
Tip #14: Listen Carefully
Focus the prison visit on your loved one. Be a good listener.
Preparing for a Texas Prison Visit
Planning and preparing for a Texas prison visit may seem like a daunting task. Use the above tips as a guideline for preparing for your prison visit.
After the visit, write a letter to your loved one to continue to build the relationship. (Check that the inmate is allowed to receive mail.) Always encourage him or her to get involved with any programs or classes. This helps your friend or loved one to get on with life and prepare for future re-entry into the community.
It can be lonely for you after a friend or loved one goes to prison. Get involved. Find local support groups and share your experience.
Prison visits can lead to better, stronger relationships in the long run. Know that your presence helps him or her “beat the odds” of returning to prison as well.
Contact the Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky in Houston at 713-227- 0087 if there’s anything we can do to help you.