Visiting an Incarcerated Family Member

Visiting a Loved One Who Is In Custody

Incarceration is always something that is difficult no matter how short or long the time is. It isn’t just hard on the person who is doing the time; it is also hard on the friends and family of that individual. Many questions that we get from clients, and the family and friends of our clients, relate to jail and prison visitation. Here is some general information about the process.


Jail is less stringent than prison, but there are still many rules that apply, especially when it comes to visitation. Different facilities have different rules, so it is best to contact the facility well before you want to visit in order to clarify and understand the procedures. That said, here are some general practices that tend to hold true.

You can not simply show up to a jail and visit an inmate. In most facilities, an inmate is required to fill out visitor forms, which will have to be approved, before someone can come and visit. This process will check to see if the inmate is allowed to have contact with you. If you have a restraining order, a no-contact order, or there are rules in place that would prevent contact when that person is on the street, you will likely be denied visitation access. Once you have been approved, there are certain hours that you will be allowed to visit. These hours vary by facility, but typically there are hours available during the morning, afternoon, and early evening. In larger facilities, what times and days may be set by an inmates name, to prevent overcrowding.

When you show up to the jail to visit an inmate, it is best to arrive early. You may have to go wait in line, or go through security checks, which can eat into the time you are allowed to see the inmate. What you wear is also going to be subject to inspection. Simply showing up to visit an inmate gives consent to search of your person and belongings, do not bring any contraband with you. Revealing clothing is generally not permitted, and is a valid reason in most jails to deny a scheduled visit. Another common issue that people are turned away for is gang, club, or set colors or insignia. This can include anything from street affiliations to formal organizations such as motorcycle clubs.

Finally, it is important to remember that when you are having a visit with an inmate, whether it is on the phone, through a video chat, or in person, your visit is being recorded. We advise that you do not talk about specific details of their cases, as any and all things said during those visits can be used against an inmate in their current case as well as lead to future charging in other cases.


Visiting an inmate in prison can be an intimidating process. Often times you are required to enter into the facility, and continue deeper into it, which can be overwhelming to those not acclimated to the process. As with visiting an inmate in jail, you are not able to simply show up to a prison to see an inmate; you will generally need to fill out a visitor form ahead of time and receive approval to visit an inmate. The duration and times that an inmate can have visitors is generally more specific and strict than a jail facility, and thus you should coordinate a visit in advance to make sure that you are able to see the inmate.

The process of visitation in a prison is much more intensive than in jail. There is almost always a mandatory security check, which means going through metal detectors, searches of your belongings, and pat-down checks. Again, do not bring any contraband with you for these visits as not only would you likely be turned away, but you also could face criminal charges of your own for brining them onto the premises. Women should know that often times bras with underwire are not allowed into the facility, and this may trigger additional scrutiny in physical pat-downs. As mentioned above in the jail section, all interaction with an inmate is recorded, and you should refrain from discussing peculiars of the inmate’s case, especially as these conversations can lead to additional criminal charges, or effect the chances of an appeal.

If you have questions about visiting a loved one in custody, contact our office to discuss it.