Prison Visitation Guide

Visiting an inmate in prison or jail is encouraged, as staying connected with family and friends can help make incarceration bearable and re-entry smoother. There are several guidelines for visitors to be aware of before and during their visit.

When someone you love goes to jail or prison, you may want to rush over to the facility and try to see them right away. Or perhaps the idea of visiting a prison scares you, and you don’t know what to expect. No matter how you are feeling, it is important to remember that visitation is indeed one of the most impactful interactions you can have with your inmate.

Why Visit an Inmate

There are several benefits to visiting an inmate, both for loved ones and the inmate.

Maintaining face-to-face interaction is beneficial because it helps loved ones know how their inmate is doing and the inmate can stay updated on the lives of those they love. Being involved in this way helps ease the transition for released inmates and their loved ones into home life and society.

Visiting an inmate can act as an incentive for them to exhibit good behavior. The right to have visitors can be taken away when a prisoner is out-of-line, unruly, or disruptive. If an inmate has the incentive of receiving a visit from loved ones, they may try to keep their record clean.

Inmate’s Visiting List

When an inmate is booked, many facilities require inmate to create a visitation list that gives the names of those they hope to receive visits from. Much like with a phone call list (INSERT LINK), this list will be approved by facility staff.

Once all visitors are approved, the inmate will still have a limit on how many can come at one time. Confirm with their facility how many minors and adults can visit at once.

Who can be on the list? For many facilities, the list can include:

  • Parents (including foster and step)
  • Children
  • Spouse
  • Siblings
  • Other relatives (grandparents, aunts/uncles, cousins, nieces/nephews)
  • Friends (there may be a limited number)
  • Sponsors
  • Clergy
  • Attorneys
  • Parole advisors
  • Employers
  • Sponsors

In some cases, such as when an inmate is first booked, family who can prove their identity may be allowed to visit without being on a list yet. Call your inmate’s facility for information on this.

Some people may be denied a visit, especially if they have had run-ins with the law before. If you are on probation, have a warrant for your arrest, are on bond, have served time in a correctional facility, or are a victim of the offender, you will most likely be denied visitation.

Inmate Visitation Application

Before you can visit an inmate for the first time, you may have to fill out an application or form. This may ask for basic information, as well as criminal history. In some cases, the form will be mailed to you if your name is put on the visitation list by the inmate. When your inmate is booked, call the institution to see if an application is required, how to obtain one, and how to return it.

Once you have turned in an application, it can take up to eight weeks to process, especially if you are hoping to visit during holidays or peak times. Do not assume that the facility will notify you once you have been approved to visit. The inmate may need to do that, or you may need to call the facility to find out.

What to Expect When Visiting an Inmate for the First Time

Are you on the inmate’s visitation list? Have you turned in your application if one is required? Great! Now you are ready to visit your inmate. Here are some things to keep in mind as you prepare to visit your inmate for the first time.


Each facility has its own visitation schedule. You may need to have a set visit time with your inmate within visiting hours. Be sure to arrive 15-20 minutes prior to your visit to get through security. Always be sure to confirm ahead of time that visitation has not been canceled or that your inmate’s privileges have not been revoked.

Also, note that some websites will list visitation days and times that may not be updated. Be sure to call the facility or confirm with your inmate by phone.

What to Bring

When you visit prison or jail, leave as much as possible in the car. Bring only your car keys and a valid form of identification. Do not bring cell phones, money, tobacco, wallets, etc. Anything you bring that is not allowed may be locked in a locker, or you will be turned away. Exceptions may be items for babies, glasses, and money to deposit into the inmate’s account.

What to Wear

Prisons and jails have regulations on what visitors can and cannot wear. Check with your inmate’s facility for a full list of appropriate attire. In most cases, the following items are prohibited:

  • Sheer/see-through clothing
  • Low-cut tops
  • Tank tops (men and women)
  • Crop tops
  • Bathing suits
  • Spandex
  • Miniskirts
  • Shorts/dresses above mid thigh
  • Backless shirts
  • Garments containing profane language or explicit images
  • Clothing that may resemble inmate clothing (khakis, green military colors, solid color outfits)
  • Hats/caps

If you are unsure of the outfit you are wearing, keep an extra change of clothing in the car.

During a Visit

Visits can last anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour. Make the most of your time by abiding by instructions given by officers and by being nondisruptive.

Physical contact will most likely be limited to a brief hug, handshake or kiss when greeting and saying goodbye. Too much physical contact will draw suspicion from officers who are watching to make sure no contraband is slipped to a prisoner.

Most likely you will conduct the visit while sitting across from the inmate at a table. Make sure to talk in low tones and remain calm and professional. Again, security is watching closely during a visit for any abnormal behavior. They reserve the right to cut a visit short.

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