prisons Everything You Need to Know About Conjugal Visits  

Mike Rothschild
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Conjugal visits are among the most cliched tropes featured in TV and movies about prison. However, prison conjugal visits are extremely rare in the US, allowed in just four states. Beyond that, the rules for them are extremely strict, with extended family visits (as they're now called) allowed for only a select few prisoners with clean records.

With their pop culture presence, one imagines conjugal visits taking place in cramped trailers all over the country. But this isn't true - and never really was. From their racist origins, to their ban in federal prisons, to the limitations placed on them, conjugal visits are one of the most misunderstood aspects of life behind bars. They're allowed for inmates in jail and prison all over the world, from liberal Europe to theocratic Middle Eastern countries - and the rules for them vary from border to border.

Here are some interesting things to know about conjugal visits and sex in prison, though hopefully you'll never have to worry about it.

The First Prison with Conjugal Visits Was a Mock Plantation


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The first conjugal visits in American history were in Mississippi State Prison (aka Parchman Farm) in the early '20s. Like so much of American history, they have a racist connotation. The prison's warden, James Parchman, wanted to encourage his African-American male prisoners to work harder, so he turned the prison into a huge faux-plantation.

Because he also thought black men were animalistic sex monsters, Parchman paid prostitutes to come and have sex with the inmates each Sunday. In the 1930s, Parchman Farm began letting white male prisoners engage in the program, and it was formalized as a "spousal visit time" in 1960.

Only Four States Still Allow Conjugal Visits


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Conjugal visits for the express purposes of sex or family time occur only in state prisons, not federal prisons. In the early 1990s, 17 states still had active conjugal visit programs. But that number has decreased, and now only California, New York, Connecticut, and Washington still allow conjugal visits. Mississippi and New Mexico also recently had conjugal visit policies, but ended them in 2014.

They're Not Really Called "Conjugal Visits" Anymore


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Conjugal visits are usually referred to as either "extended family visits" or "family reunion visits." The name change was likely to remove some of the seedier connotations with the name, and to reflect the addition of family visiting time. The official reason for these extended family visits is three-fold: to maintain a connection between the prisoner and his family, to reduce recidivism, and to provide an incentive for good behavior.

Prisoners Have No Constitutional Right to Family Visits


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In Lyons v. Gilligan (1974), the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio held that the prisoners have no constitutional right to conjugal visits with their spouses during sentences. Inmates of the Marion, Ohio Correctional Institution had brought legal action against the prison to require visits as part of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The court disagreed.