Prison Visiting and Judicial Decisions

By · Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Kellen wrote me with questions pertaining to visiting, and with questions regarding my perceptions of recent judicial decision to lower population levels in California’s prison system

Visiting privileges depend upon the security level of the prison. In higher-security institutions, the atmosphere feels more oppressive because of the higher concentration of guards, the surveillance cameras, the rigid requirements that limit prisoners from interacting with visitors. Those regulations exist, of course, because the classification of prisoners held in such institutions suggests those prisoners present a threat to security. In minimum-security camps, the atmosphere feels much less oppressive, as administrators do not perceive the same level of threat from prisoners held in open institutions.

Regardless of the security level, prisoners must send application forms to proposed visitors. Generally, the rules hold that prisoners must have had a relationship that precedes confinement for visiting privileges. The visitor must authorize administrators to perform a background check to determine suitability for visiting privileges. If the prisoner has family members with criminal backgrounds, administrators may deny visiting privileges. This policy applies to husband and wives, as well as fathers and sons.

Once approved for visiting, visitors may come to the prison on approved days. Administrators may limit visiting times. At the Taft Prison Camp, where I currently am confined, I may visit every Friday. If I choose to visit on Saturdays or Sundays, I may have only two or three visits per months. Visits generally last a maximum of six hours.

In the camp where I’m confined, prisoners have more freedom of movement. We’re allowed to choose form available seating, and we can hold hands with our visitors. We can walk without requesting permission. In higher-security prisons, guards assign seating and prisoners may not move without requesting permission.

In federal prison, prisoners are allowed to embrace and kiss their visitors at the start and at the conclusion of each visit. Other than hand holding in camps, guards do not permit additional contact. Guards enforce rules by terminating visits of those who misbehave and by suspending further visiting privileges.

Nurturing family relationships under such strict conditions presents a challenge for prisoners and their family members. To exacerbate these challenges, administrators also limit prisoners to an average of 10 minutes of telephone access per day. These obstacles complicate relationships with children and place stress on marriages. My wife and I write frequently, and we work hard to keep our love thriving. Prison policies hinder family relationships, and they contribute to high recidivism rates.

I am in total agreement with judicial decision that would lower prison population levels. Too many people who should serve sanctions in community confinement centers fill our prison system. Prisons are limited resources, and taxpayers should demand that they be used to confine those who prey upon society. A significant portion of prison populations could release to society without any threat to the public.

It is preposterous to believe that keeping a man in prison for a longer term somehow makes him more prepared for release. Rather, a prisoner’s adjustment pattern influences his chances for success, not the number of calendar pages that have turned. By locking so many people in prison who do not need to be in prison, this system has become a huge burden to taxpayers. The system meets the needs of suppliers who provide goods and services to the system, but it does not serve the interests of taxpayers. I believe that only those who present a danger to society should be in prison. We should require others to serve community-based sanctions at their own expense.

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Topics: Response to Readers, Visiting · Tags:

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