If you aren’t familiar with the prison system, or if you’ve never known anyone in prison before, visiting an inmate for the first time can be scary. You probably don’t know what to expect, or how to handle yourself, and although the officers in charge of overseeing visitation may be of some help, they can also be intimidating. If you are visiting a prison inmate for the first time, consider the following guidelines.
1- Personal Belongings
One of the first things you should consider before visiting a prison inmate for the first time is the personal belongings you’ll have with you for the visit. All prisons are different concerning what they will allow visitors to take with them, but the less the better, regardless of where the prison is located. For example, most medication will be confiscated (but returned) before you can enter the visiting room, unless the medication is related to an allergy or ongoing condition.
Additionally, most prisons won’t allow visitors to bring gifts or money for inmates during visitation. You’ll need prior approval in most cases, and you may need to send those items via mail instead of bringing them with you. Contraband, of course, is not allowed in prisons (federal or otherwise) and may include weapons, drugs, cash, stolen property, or anything else for which you might be arrested. Don’t take the chance.
2- Dress Code
These days, people must consider the dress code when visiting a prison inmate for the first time. Dress codes are established to protect everyone involved, and to ensure that everyone involved in visitation is safe. In most cases, visitation is conducted in groups, so there will be multiple families and loved ones present. This means that revealing or inappropriate clothing will not be allowed.
Furthermore, dress codes might prohibit garments such as hats, gloves, large overcoats and shorts. In the federal prison system, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), outfits that closely resemble prisoner or guard uniforms are also prohibited.
In order to visit a prison inmate, you will need to provide photo identification to the guard before you will be allowed to go to the visiting area. In most cases, a government-issued ID is required, though some state prisons are more flexible. You’ll need to show your identification, at which point the guard will check to make sure the inmate as listed you on his visitor’s sheet, which identifies those people he wishes to see. If you are not on the list, the prisoner may be asked if he or she would like to see you, or you may be turned away right then.
Search & Seizure
When you visit a prison inmate for the first time, you may be surprised to learn that your belongings and your person may be searched at any time, and that anything the guards find can be seized for the duration of your visit. This policy is used to protect everyone involved, and should make you feel safer within the prison. For this reason, it is a good idea to bring as little with you as possible, and to avoid large bags or briefcases that may take a long time to search.
Visiting hours vary depending on the prison you intend to visit, so make sure you know the hours before you make the trip. In many cases, prison limit the amount of time that inmates can spend with friends or family, though most are guaranteed at least four hours of visitation per month, according to the BOP.
When you visit a prison inmate for the first time, you might be picturing the two rows of chairs separated by glass, with telephones for communication. In reality, most prisons now allow inmates to visit with friends and family in a communal visitation room, which allows inmates to hug, kiss and embrace their loved ones. However, physical contact is limited, and the same rules for conversation apply.
It is best to keep your visits short and sweet, and to avoid inflammatory discussions. Shouting, fighting, wild gesturing and other disruptions will only result in a shortened visitation. Instead, sit at the table provided and use your time to catch up and to make sure your loved one is doing all right.
Federal Bureau of Prisons, Visiting Room Procedures