Conjugal Visits in Prison Sociology Essay Example

Prisons and other correctional bodies perform essential social functions. It is not enough to prove the guilt of a criminal. He or she has to be punished and pass a long way of becoming a law-abiding and socialized citizen. Prisons should create all favorable physical and psychological conditions for this process. One of the factors facilitating imprisonment and decreasing the aggressive behavior of criminals is their spouses’ support. The way criminals can meet their husbands and wives is determined by the legislation of the U.S. states. There is a great discussion about whether the incarcerated should have a chance to enjoy spending some time with their partners. Such dates make their staying in prison more comfortable and thus contribute to quicker socialization afterwards. It is believed that conjugal visits in prison, in case of being properly administrated, greatly contribute to the improvement of the criminals’ psychological state and reduce the number of re-incarcerations.

Defining a “Conjugal Visit”

Conjugal visits help prisoners preserve connection with their beloved partners. England (n.d.) states that those prisoners who have close family ties are more likely to reenter society and return to their normal lifestyle quicker. The role of prisoners’ communication with their wives or husbands and children has always been discussed by the psychologists. Their ideas gave birth to the notion of an “extended family visit” (England, n.d., para. 3), during which a criminal has a chance to see any of his family members. Later there appeared a narrowed version of these meetings, named a “conjugal visit”, defined as “private time that a prisoner may spend with a spouse or, in California, a registered domestic partner” (England, n.d., para 3). This visit usually means having an intimate contact with a spouse. Thus, the necessity and positive influence of the conjugal visits on prisoners was initially recognized by psychologists and prison wardens.

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The U.S. Sates Allowing and not Allowing Conjugal Visits

In spite of a generally recognized positive influence of conjugal visits in prison, there are still some disparities as to whether they should be commonly allowed for all prisoners. “Currently only five states (Mississippi, New York, California, Washington and New Mexico) allow private conjugal visitations for inmates and their spouses” (Hensley, Rutland, & Gray-Ray, 2002, p. 143). These states take part in extended family visitation programs that allow congeal visits. However, England (n.d.) writes that the number of states where private visits are allowed has recently grown, and nowadays Connecticut also officially recognizes inmates’ privilege of conjugal visits. Moreover, California is the only state that allows same sex domestic partner visits. It follows the example of such counties as Canada, Belgium, Mexico and Brazil, where homosexual private visits of home registered partners are allowed. The USA tries to control conjugal visits in prison by means of legislation. The growing number of states allowing such visits officially proves that heir positive psychological impact on the inmates is recognized.

Specific Regulations of Conjugal Visits

As it was mentioned in the introductory part of this research paper, conjugal visits become an effective element of the correctional process provided that they are properly administered. A state allowing these visits for its prisoners should control them with the help of prisons’ administrations and the wardens. Conjugal visits may last from one to three hours in a separate accommodation, which is specially equipped by a shower cabin, towels, soap and other things a couple may need. The crime committed by the prisoner and his or her moral state should be examined before giving him or her a chance to meet a family member or have an intimate contact with the spouse: “the criteria include a careful review of the inmate’s record to establish his or her inclination toward violence” (Hensley et al., 2002, p.149). If an individual was imprisoned for committing a murder or rape, an extensive psychiatric expertise is needed to approve his or her participation in the program and the frequency of the visits allowed. There exist different intervals between conjugal visits allowed for prisoners with a different level of custody. Thus, the minimal custody allows a prisoner to have these dates every forty-five days, and the maximal punishment extends this period to eighty-five days (Hensley et al., 2002). On these conditions a prisoner will feel that he or she is allowed to see his or her beloved but can have only rare meetings because of a violent crime he or she had committed. Thus, this fact will become a correctional instrument and makes the criminal think more about the disadvantages of being socially dangerous.

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Apart from the mentioned psychological analysis, there is a rule of having a physical medical examination in order to monitor how the discussed private visits influence the state of health of both partners. Prisoners are also required to make a urinalysis straight after the conjugal visit to determine whether some drug or substance use took place (Hensley et al., 2002). If the results are positive, then the conjugal visits of such an inmate may be denied. England (n.d.) mentions that visitors should also observe certain rules. Their background is checked before letting them visit their relative in prison. They should wear appropriate clothing and not interfere with a physical search for weapons and drug substances. If a child wants to visit his or her parent, then they should meet in the territory of the facility that children are allowed to enter. Some prisons even determine which food products and presents their inmates can get. Cell phones and electronic devices are not allowed (England, n.d.). All these measures are taken for the sake of the participants’ security. Therefore, the regulation of conjugal visits in the USA is not limited to the legislation of the states allowing or prohibiting them, but is also restricted by the mentioned rules.

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Conjugal Visits Solving Prison Sex Issues

Each prisoner should be considered by the administrators and wardens of the prison as individuality, first of all, and then, judging by the severity of a committed crime it is possible to determine the value of each incarcerated person. Thus, all prisoners are common people with their normal primary physical necessities, which include food and sex. However, the problem of prison sex is complicated, and it is discussed by psychologists in the context of why prisoners use sex not as their primary necessity but for other purposes: “In prison, sex is valued because it is highly desired and forbidden. Therefore, prisoners use sex as a commodity to gain access to items they would not have access to otherwise” (Smith, 2006, p. 17). These items many include cigarettes or candies. Thus, due to prisoners’ low moral values sex loses its meaning of being intimate contact with a beloved person. The forms of sexual abuse most commonly practiced in prison include raping and homosexual contacts (Smith, 2006). Private conjugal visits can definitely reduce the first named form and return the meaning of family sex based on love and unity. Moreover, the statistical data in Mississippi, where the extended family visitation program is applied, demonstrates that “59 per cent of the nonparticipants of the program felt that conjugal visits did reduce homosexual behavior. Seventy-four per cent of participants in the program felt that conjugal visits did reduce homosexual behavior in prison” (Hensley et al., 2002, p. 153). Therefore, conjugal visits assist in solving both individual sexual problems of prisoners and general issues related to prison sex in the USA.

A separate aspect of the discussed problem is the education of the prison staff members and administration in the respect to conjugal visits. The necessity of wardens and senior officers being educated in this aspect is confirmed by the polls performed among workers. More than a half of the prison administrators did not believe that the discussed visits of criminals’ spouses could decrease homosexual relationships and sexual violence in prisons. “In contrast, many inmates – particularly those participating in the program – feel that it [a conjugal visit] does increase a family stability and reduce homosexual behavior and violence” (Hensley et al., 2002, p. 149). The answers of inmates are predictable, but prison wardens should study the effect of conjugal visits more to comprehend their positive influence on prisoners. Therefore, conjugal dates in prison can promote mutual respect between inmates and wardens as these visits are an element of a favorable psychological atmosphere that should be created.

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Drawbacks of Conjugal Visits

Though this paper explicitly advocates for conjugal visits in prison, it has also discovered some negative sides of the issue in order to understand the concept better. Hensley et al. (2002) have enumerated the most common arguments of the opponents of conjugal visits. Primarily, these dates can generate negative attitudes of those prisoners who are not allowed to see their spouses to the participants of the program. Secondly, prisons that allow conjugal visits may have more problems with drugs and contraband. One more reason that may hinder the approval of conjugal visits in some states is negative public attitude to the issue. Some scholars are convinced that the USA citizens will never accept conjugal visits as a common practice (Hensley et al., 2002). The most essential problem related to conjugal visitation programs is the spread of HIV/AIDS. This issue may provoke additional lawsuits for correctional bodies (Hensley et al., 2002). One more argument, mentioned by Hensley et al. (2002), is the insufficient statistical data that is not capable of confirming the positive influence of the conjugal visitation program in numbers. In addition, conjugal visits may arise some serious issues. At the same time Hensley et al. (2002) are convinced that all these problems may be solved by taking serious precautious measures and devoting more time to analyzing psychological state of the most problematic inmates.

In order to demonstrate the current confrontation between the supporters of conjugal visits and their opponents, it is worth considering the article by The Associated Press (2015). In the article, it is said that Christopher Epps, a former chief of the U.S. Department of Corrections, strictly limited the practice of conjugal visits for Mississippi. From that time on only a federal magistrate judge decided whether an inmate from Mississippi was allowed to have an intimate date. “Epps said he believed the visits helped keep families together and reduced sexual assault among prisoners. But Epps said with the focus on trimming prison expenses, the benefits did not outweigh the costs” (The Associated Press, 2015, para. 6). Epps was resigned in 2013 because of a corruption charge. When the majority of Mississippi prisons allowed conjugal visits, their staff provided inmates and their spouses with separate rooms and all sanitary-hygienic means they needed.

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Therefore, the dates were properly organized and some financial means were spent on them. Epps considers material difficulties that prisons have related to conjugal visits. In his opinion, these expenses can be a sufficient argument for a complete prohibition of conjugal dates. However, in such a case the issue reaches the level of state financing. If the laws allow some states to have the conjugal visits in prison, it means that these states should provide proper financing of these dates. Allowing the inmates to have intimate contacts with their spouses is implemented not with the unique purpose of satisfying their physical needs. The prisoners are given a chance to feel the atmosphere of a home and family. Therefore, conjugal visits will reach one of their main aims – stabilizing the psychological state of the incarcerated. Therefore, Mississippi is not consistent in its policy related to conjugal visits in prison due to some financial difficulties associated with their organization. It is easy to prohibit such dates, but it is more complicated to fight for conjugal visits for the sake of the discussed purposes. Human rights organizations together with the correction leaders should cooperate in solving the issue.

Taking everything into consideration, it is important to state that the conjugal visitation program in prisons is a widely discussed topic that has its opponents and supporters. Both parties definitely agree that in case a prison has a system of these visits, it should strictly regulate them by the legislation. Supporting family ties, solving prison sex issues and being a productive instrument of a positive influence on the psychological state of the inmates with the purpose of the further crime reduction are unconditional benefits of the discussed private dates. Creating all conditions for releasing a psychologically healthy individual is the main aim of the correctional bodies.