Arrival for Visiting
Many prisons restrict how early a visitor may drive onto prison grounds for a visit; usually about an hour before the start of visiting hours. Some visitors will arrive before that time and line up in their cars directly outside the prison gates. As some prisons are directly off freeways, highways, or other very busy roadways, that can be potentially dangerous and, sometimes, in violation of traffic laws. All visitors should be very careful in parking outside the gates; and when driving on grounds be courteous and respectful of others as well as obeying all traffic laws. Visitors found to be in violation of traffic laws may be subject to warnings, termination, or suspension of visits.
Most prisons do not have staff at the gate, so visitors are free to drive onto grounds and to the visitor parking lot at the allowed time. Only a few prisons have staff at the gate. At those prisons, staff distributes visiting passes to be filled out by visitors for processing. Staff may conduct a visual inspection of the vehicle, including the trunk, and may also utilize “drug dogs” (Narcotic Detection K-9’s) to assist them by sniffing for drugs around the outside of the car. All visitors should understand that it is a felony to bring any weapons or any illegal drugs onto prison grounds, and will typically result in loss of visits and prosecution.
A visual inspection of the interior of your car from outside of the car is allowed anytime you drive onto or off of prison grounds or when you are parked on prison grounds. Additionally, a visual inspection of your trunk is allowed when driving onto or off of grounds. Any further inspection of the interior of your vehicle requires your consent, a search warrant, or reasonable suspicion of a visitor attempting to introduce or remove contraband or unauthorized items.
All prisons have parking available for visitors, in a parking lot separate from the parking lot for staff. Visitors should take care to park in the appropriate places. Most prisons have adequate parking for all visitors, but the parking may require a fairly long walk to the processing center or the boarding of a prison van or bus to be driven to the processing center. Parking for disabled visitors is provided in specially-marked places.
All visitors should be careful for themselves and their children in walking through the parking lot, as often there is substantial moving traffic. Visitors should walk from their cars to the line, as running on prison grounds is not allowed and may be perceived as an emergency.
There will be a wait from the time you arrive at a prison to the time you are processed to visit. Typical wait times for processing are not excessive. However, on occasion may be as long as two hours, depending on the number of visitors, the time of day, and conditions of processing (including the size of the processing center, the number of staff, and the speed of processing). The wait times are usually longer first thing in the morning, when many visitors arrive all at the same time.
The conditions under which visitors must wait depend on the particular prison, but visitors should be cautioned that the wait may be without shelter (even in the rain, snow, or strong heat), may be without bathrooms, and may be in an area with traffic hazards or restricted movement (including not allowing children to move around).
As noted previously, there are Visitor Centers at most of the prisons, and those Centers provide bathrooms, shelter, and activities for children. At a few prisons, visitors are given numbered passes either when they drive onto grounds or once they are parked and get in line. If you have a numbered pass, that will secure your place in line while you go to the Visitor Center; however, since most prisons do not hand out numbered passes, going to the Visitor Center will require the visitor to go to the end of the line when he/she returns to the line.
Some prisons require scheduled appointments for visitors during the first two to four hours of visiting. At these prisons, visitors without appointments will be processed on a first-come, first-in-line, first served basis; but not until all visitors with appointments have been processed. Appointments can be made either by e-mail and/or telephone, but only during specified hours. The 800 Visitors’ Information number and the CDCR website will have information regarding whether the prison you are visiting requires appointments and how to make an appointment.