“By signing this petition, you are acknowledging that families and marriages are sacred and should be allowed to continue to grow and remain healthy despite incarceration.”
This petition was set up last year and ended shortly afterward because out of 10,000 signatures requested only 406 were obtained for prisoners to receive conjugal visits.
In many parts of the world conjugal visits are seen as a healthy part of rehabilitation, however not all prisons allow them. On the plus side, Australia’s Corrections Minister Hargreaves has taken a particularly positive stand on conjugal visits as he has observed that they reduce recidivism. But only two provinces in Australia allow conjugal visits.
A research article written in 1977 by Kevin Wright outlines the arguments most in favor of visitation of prisoners by spouses: “Conjugal visits give inmates the opportunity to keep the family unit together. By doing so, inmates are more likely to have lower recidivism rates and are easier to manage while serving their sentences. There is a need for new research on conjugal visitation programs. Past research has shown that these programs are a valuable rehabilitative tool for the criminal justice system. If these programs can be used to reintegrate offenders back into the community, then they should be used on a larger scale.”
The fact is, however, few prisons in the United States allow conjugal visits despite the fact that many people in corrections believe it helps rehabilitation prisoners and reduces recidivism. Those that do allow conjugal visits have strict conditions for doing so.
Mississippi allows conjugal visits but only for married couples. Inmates must have an acceptable behavioral rating and be in a minimum custody status.
California allows both homosexual and heterosexual conjugal visits. These visits came after a lawsuit emphasizing equal rights for homosexuals that included of sex with partners in prison. This is in spite of the fact that Proposition 8 in California prohibited gay marriage at the time of the ruling.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons does not permit conjugal visits. The move to make these possible has taken place primarily at the state level, although the arguments in favor of conjugal visits remain the same. It is an important point since a number of inmates are incarcerated for victimless crimes.
Human rights activists consider the family bond important and encourage prisons to adopt rules for conjugal visits. Many of these organizations are on the front lines in the push for prison reform to include conjugal visits.
Interestingly enough, it isn’t necessarily the more liberal or permissive cultures that are on the front lines of allowing inmates to have sex with spouses in prison. Conjugal visits are allowed in Saudi Arabia but not in England, Scotland and Ireland. In Brazil conjugal visits are allowed for both homosexuals and heterosexuals. Mexico City has the same rules.
In Israel the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin fathered a child in prison as a consequence of Israel’s allowing conjugal visits.
Mike Farrell, long-time advocate of prison reform, maintains conjugal visits should be allowed as part of humane treatment. But does it reduce recidivism?
According to experts, conjugal visits have mixed results. Some believe the costs outweigh the benefits but most believe the practice helps the family and reduces recidivism. Research at Florida State University found “visitation reduces and delays recidivism.”
Petition to allow conjugal visits in all U.S. prisons
ACT to allow prison conjugal visits
Conjugal visits: a U.S. perspective
Family and Corrections Network
Gay and lesbian couples in California allowed conjugal visits
Conjugal visits: general information
Federal Bureau of Prisons
Mike Farrell: Advocating prison reform: humanitarian crisis in our own backyard
The Daily Kos
Inmate and social ties and the transition to society: does visitation reduce recidivism?
Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency