Visiting a prison inmate comes with certain rules. From the prison officials point of view, the rule are in place to keep everyone safe from the prison guards to the visitors to the inmates themselves. The rules are also meant to make the jobs of the prison employees easier so that prison visits can go smoothly for everyone.
The biggest tip when visiting a prison inmate is to remember that it does not matter if you agree with the rules or not. It does not pay to get angry about the rules or to argue with guards and/or prison officials when you visit. You can walk away from the prison after acting out your anger and frustration, the inmate you visit and the people who work at the prison cannot not. Don’t create any hard feelings or make an unnecessary scene when visiting. If you really feel the rules regulating prison visits are unfair or that you feel you were treated inappropriately, take the issue up through proper channels like speaking with prison officials at a private meeting or contacting an attorney and working with them to address an issue. Just be sure whatever problem you feel you encountered while visiting is worth addressing in a formal manner.
If you try to break the rules when you visit a prison, then you can lose visiting privileges. This has a very negative effect on the inmate you visit. Likely the inmate very much looks forward to your visit all week (or even all month). You may think breaking some ‘silly rule’ while visiting someone in prison is no big deal for you, but it is not all about you. You will likely also be hurting the very person who counts on you for contact with the outside world.
Below are a few tips to help you with planning a visit a prison inmate. These are general tips. Each prison or jail whether Federal, State or Local will have its own rules and guidelines. Some prison institutions are more strict, some are less strict. It is a good idea to do a little research about the prison you will be visiting – call, check their web site or both – about any special rules that particular prison may have. The information below will generally apply and be help for any prison visit.
* Obtain a copy of the rules for visitors. Many prisons will give you a list of rules before your visit. It is possible you might also find them online. If you do find the rules for visitors online, double check that the rules are still current by calling the prison and checking. Online information can sometimes be out-of-date. Keep a printed copy for reference purposes.
* Coordinate prison visits with friends and family. In most prisons, inmates may only visit with a certain number of people per visiting day. You don’t want to drive all the way to the prison to see your friend or family member only to find out that the inmate cannot have visitors because he/she has already seen a visitor(s) that day.
* Important: Make sure that you are on the prison’s visitor list. This is particularly important for higher-security inmates. You might be denied a visit if you aren’t on the list. Some prison’s may permit you to visit an inmate, but because you did not notify the prison before hand, will require that you be ‘processed’ which can involve paperwork, background check and/or you providing identification that will take time to check. This can leave you with less time for visiting an inmate, or force you to come back another time. That brings us to the next tip …
* ALWAYS bring your photo ID to visit an inmate. Likely you will not even be allowed inside the prison without your driver’s license or similar form of ID.
* DO NOT show up at a jail or prison outside of visiting hours. There are set visiting hours at ALL prisons and jails. You need to know what those hours are before you visit. If there is a personal emergency that concerns an inmate you should contact the prison before you show up. Also, make sure you have some proof of the type of emergency, someone whom the prison can call to confirm the emergency like a police officer’s name, doctor’s name and/or hospital involved, lawyers phone number and so forth.
* NEVER show up to visit an inmate drunk or under the influence of illegal drugs. Visitors to any prison are expected to be sober and not under the influence of drugs, and don’t be surprised if you are asked, point blank, by an officer at admissions if you have been drinking or using drugs.
* Dress appropriately. Guards have the right to turn away visitors who are wearing revealing clothing or other inappropriate garments. You might also be asked to remove cover garments like jackets, overcoats, hats, even your shoes might be checked. A good way to think about it is that the prison wants you to take prison seriously … which it is.
* Do not bring gifts unless you check ahead of time the inmate you’re visiting can accept gifts. Inmates are not allowed to possess certain items. Depending on the prison and other factors, inmates might not be allowed to have CDs, cell phones, electronics like an ipad, hardback books or disposable pens. If gifts are permitted you will still likely need to clear it with the guards first. Unless given permission, do not gift wrap a gift. The gift will have to be inspected so do not be surprised if the guards want to open the box or packaging or even take the gift apart before the inmate is allow to accept it.
* Be prepared for a search. Guards reserve the right to search anyone entering the prison. This can include your vehicle. If there is something you don’t want to be found in your car, take it out before you visit an inmate. Do not assume you can take things you don’t want found out of your pocket or purse and leave it in your car. A search of your car or person is not guaranteed to happen, but be ready for one. If you refuse, you will be denied entry into the prison.
* Leave all weapons at home. You may think a gun is your right to possess, but bringing a gun anywhere near a prison is asking for the kind of trouble you do not want. Make your gun rights statement elsewhere. Even things that are not normally used as weapons – nail clippers, for example – should stay behind or at the least stay in the car. The less the guards have to take away from you for safekeeping when you enter the prison, the faster your visit with an inmate can begin.
* Leave valuables at home. This includes jewelry, a lot of cash in your wallet or purse and so forth. Some prisons won’t let you take anything into the visiting area (including purses in some cases). Lock up valuables in your car for safekeeping.
* Keep your safety in mind at all times. This includes the visiting area whether it is inside or outside. Most people in prison are there for a reason, and you may be sharing the visiting area with any number of other inmates and their guests. Follow all directions that the guards give you and pay attention to your surroundings.
* DO NOT argue with the guards. Like it or not the guards trying to protect everyone in the prison (including themselves and your inmate). As previously stated above, if there is something that is a problem for you, take up with higher authorities later (and then be careful doing that). There is usually a very good reason for the policies and rules. A prison is a prison because it is not part of the free world.
* Some prisons are very large and can have different buildings, sections or wings. The different sections or wings of a prison can have different visiting hours and different regulations. Make sure you know where the inmate you are visiting is housed and what the visiting regulations may be. Each wing or building may have its own way of doing things as well. Know the rules for your inmate’s specific area can make visiting easier and more enjoyable.
Hopefully, the information above will help you make visiting an inmate easier and less troublesome. You can be certain that anyone in prison appreciates your efforts and looks forward to your visits.