Prisoners confined within the Federal Bureau of Prisons are permitted to have visits with family and friends. While visitation policies differ depending on the federal prison in question, the general rules and procedures are the same for all facilities.
Applying to Visit
While an inmate’s immediate family members will automatically be approved for visitation, friends can also visit, as long as they knew the prisoner prior to their current incarceration. To determine the inmate’s immediate family members, prison officials include this information in the prisoner’s Pre-Sentence Investigation Report (PSR). For those not in the inmate’s immediate family, the prisoner will need to send them a visitation application form for them to complete and return. This application form asks a number of questions, including if the proposed visitor has a criminal history and for how long they have known the prisoner. As each new person is added to your visitation list you should receive an updated copy of the list from your counselor.
Who Can Visit?
- Immediate Family:
- Mother, Father, Step-parent(s), Foster parent(s), Brothers, Sisters, Spouse (common-law spouses are considered spouses if the state recognizes common-law marriages), children (children under 16 years old must have a parent or guardian approve their placement on the list)
- Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, In-laws, Cousins
- Up to 10 friends/associates, Foreign officials, Members of religious groups, including clergy, Members of civic groups, Employers (former or perspective), Sponsors, Parole advisors, Attourneys
While the prior relationship component is mostly absolute, merely having a criminal record (especially one from years prior) isn’t a reason for exclusion, though, being on probation, parole, or supervised release, along with having a recent criminal history could be used as a cause for denial. If a family member or friend has a criminal record, then your unit manager will review the application to determine if it should be approved or denied.
In certain circumstances (e.g. when an inmate first enters prison or is transferred to a new prison and they don’t yet have a visitation list), immediate family members who can be verified by the information contained in the inmate’s Pre-Sentence Report (PSR) may be allowed to visit. However, if there is little or no information available about a person, visiting may be denied.
It is always a good idea to call the prison ahead of time to ensure visitation is permitted and potential visitors are approved. Usually the inmate’s counselor will provide a form for the listing of immediate family. If they can be verified with the PSR, they will be added to the inmate’s visitation list.
After the visitor is approved, they need to speak with their incarcerated family member or friend to find out what days they are allowed to receive visits on. Common days are Monday, Thursday, and Friday evenings, along with Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Weekends are the most popular time to visit so prisons may choose to limit visits to either Saturday or Sunday and the day will vary for each inmate. Other factors that can affect the days and times that visitation is permitted include:
- the prison location
- the prison type
- inmate visiting needs
- availability of visiting space
The inmate you plan to visit should be able to advise what the visiting schedule is for that prison; however, additional questions can be directed to the inmate’s counselor or the facility’s front desk.
All visits with loved ones are monitored by the prison. However, prisoners confined within the Federal Bureau of Prisons do enjoy the right to privileged legal communications with their attorneys. Learn more about attorney and prisoner visitation.
There are some limitations to when and how often a prisoner can receive visits.
Number of visits: Prisoners are given visitation points, where prisoners are assessed a point for weekday visits and three points for weekend and holiday visits. While the exact point totals and limitations vary by prison facility, the idea is that prisoners can only receive so many visits each month. This tends to be five or six, depending on the days selected and local policies. Such policies should be available for review at each prison’s page at www.bop.gov.
What visitors can wear when they visit prisoners: Outside of approval and visit limitations, there are also limitations placed on visitor attire and what can be brought into the institution. Visitors must abide by the dress code or they may be refused visitation. Below is a list of clothing items that are generally not permitted:
- revealing shorts, halter tops, bathing suits, see-through garments of any type, crop tops, low-cut blouses or dresses, leotards, spandex, miniskirts, backless tops, hats or caps, sleeveless garments, skirts two inches or more above the knee, dress or skirts with a high-cut split (in the back, front or side), or clothing that looks like inmate clothing (khaki or green military-type clothing)
What visitors can bring when they visit a prison: Visitors are restricted to bringing in a wallet, car keys, and a clear plastic bag with money in it for use in the vending machines. All visitors must present a valid, government-issued photo ID, along with submitting to a search of person via metal detector or other methods. The vending machine is a highlight for many prisoners as the food in the vending machines is better fare than the food in prison. Due to the change machine usually being out of order, it is a good idea for visitors to bring perhaps $10 to $15 in quarters.
Limited contact with prisoners when visiting: During visits there are also limits to physical contact permitted. Prisoners and visitors are allowed to embrace at the beginning and end of visits, which are conducted in a designated area of the prison (e.g., the Visitation Room), but not throughout the visit. While most prison guards will permit the holding of hands, groping and ongoing kissing are prohibited. The Federal Bureau of Prisons does not permit conjugal visits.
How to behave: Because there are generally many people visiting at the same time, federal prisons enforce quiet, orderly and dignified visits. If visitors or inmates are acting inappropriately, visitation can be terminated.
How long visits with prisoners last: The length of visitation time with federal prisoners depends on the local prison facility, but most visits can last for several hours (e.g., three or four).
Amount of people allowed to visit prisoners at a time: The Federal Bureau of Prisons policy permits up to four adult visitors at a time, though local policies can expand or restrict this. Children under 16 don’t count against this total. Most prisons permit inmates to have up to 10 non-immediate family members on their approved visitation list at one time.
Violations of any of the above or other stated visitation policies can result in a visit being terminated. Usually Visitation Room officials will provide a warning prior to terminating a visit.