Century Later, Conjugal Visits to End in Mississippi

Leaving 5 states that allow them, down from 17 in 1993
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 13, 2014 7:40 AM CST
Century Later, Conjugal Visits to End in Mississippi
Conjugal visits are poised to end in Mississippi.   (Shutterstock)

Only six states allow prisoners conjugal visits—and the state where the practice began roughly a century ago, Mississippi, is poised to halt (but not legally ban) those visits Feb. 1. The prison commissioner in the state, where 155 of some 22,000 inmates had such visits last year, blames budget issues as well as "the number of babies being born possibly as a result." The New York Times speaks to the spouses who treasure the time, even if it's brief and less than comfortable. "It's not romantic, but it doesn't matter," says the wife of an Arkansas inmate; she drives eight hours to see her husband, who is due for release in 2022. "Obviously they did something wrong. But they are human, too. So are we."

Another spouse notes that ending the practice denies her the ability to have children in the future. "I feel like they are taking away my choice," she says. Vocativ and the Times offer the basics on how such visits work:

  • They're still also allowed in California, Connecticut, New Mexico, New York, and Washington; that's down from 17 states in 1993. (The Times piece implies Connecticut's program is not currently active.)
  • The practice began in the early 1900s at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, whose warden thought they would prod black inmates to toil harder in the fields; prostitutes were often brought in.
  • Today, inmates must be married and have a clean behavior record (generally no fighting, swearing, etc., in the last six months) to qualify; they usually have to apply for the visits, which occur only in medium- to lower-security prisons; federal prisons allow no such visits.
  • "Extended family visits" can last up to 24 hours for well-behaved prisoners nearing release. Mississippi has recently allowed only one-hour visits, the Times notes.
  • The visits occur in private apartments inside prison walls, which are usually outfitted with sheets, soap, towels, and condoms. The prison does not provide food.
  • California and New York allow same-sex couples to participate in the practice within marriages or civil unions.
  • The visits are largely free; Washington state participants pay $10.
Conjugal visits are permitted in some other countries—not always successfully. (More prison stories.)

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