In the Visiting Room

Turning in Pass and Awaiting Prisoner’s Arrival

Upon arrival to the visiting room, the visitor turns in the pass to staff. At some prisons, the visitor also surrenders his/her identification to staff; at other prisons, the visitor must show his/her identification but otherwise holds onto it during the visit. Staff then uses the information on the pass to call the housing unit and advise the prisoner that he/she has a visit and should come to the visiting room.

Usually it should not take more than twenty minutes for a prisoner to get to the visiting room after staff has called. That period can be longer due to factors such as the need for an escort, the readiness of the prisoner for his/her visit, or unforeseen lockdowns, incidents on the yard, or quarantines. If a visitor has been waiting more than 30 minutes, he/she should ask staff about the delay. Staff will typically know whether the delay is a prison-related issue and advise the visitor; if it is not, the visitor should ask staff to call again for the prisoner. (When visiting room staff calls the housing unit for the prisoner, it becomes the responsibility of housing unit staff to advise the prisoner. Sometimes housing unit staff are diverted by other responsibilities and forget to advise the prisoner, so it is important to inquire if you have been waiting for more than 30 minutes.)

Prisons count their prisoner population at certain times during the day. Movement of prisoners is frozen during those periods, and no prisoner will be released to the visiting room. The only count that is likely to interfere with visiting during the weekend hours is the Close Custody Count which prevents prisoners from going to the visiting from about 11:15 a.m. until the count is cleared around 12:45 p.m. The prisoner you are going to see will be able to tell you whether he/she is close custody and what time the “close custody” count is on Saturday and Sunday. If you arrive in the visiting room during a count period, you will be required to wait for the prisoner’s arrival until count has cleared (meaning that the prison has accounted for all the prisoners being counted), a period that can last more than an hour.

Seating

All prison visiting rooms have chairs set up for prisoners and their visitors to use while visiting. Most prison visiting rooms also have small tables, usually about 24 inches square and no more than 18 inches high. (A limited number of larger, taller tables are available for disabled prisoners or disabled visitors.) At some prisons, staff assigns the visitors to a specific table and/or chairs; at other prisons, the visitors are allowed to choose where they wish to sit.

Prisoners and visitors are subject to continuous surveillance. Most prison visiting rooms have surveillance cameras. All visiting rooms are staffed by several correctional officers. There is usually a podium or control booth where at least one officer will sit; others will walk throughout the room. Prisoners are usually required to sit facing the podium or control booth. Visitors are usually allowed to sit facing any direction, but some prisons may have restrictions for visitor seating as well.

Many visiting rooms have adjoining patios that prisoners and their visitors may use. The patios may have some grass, some play equipment for small children, and some furniture (benches, chairs, tables). The patios may be available for use during all visiting hours or only at restricted times.

Some visiting rooms have an area set aside for small children. The area is usually relatively small (about the size of a typical bedroom) and has toys, games, and books for the children. Children must be supervised at all times while on prison grounds by the adult who has accompanied them to the prison, including whenever the children are in the play area. Failure to adequately supervise children can result in the termination of the visit, but it can also result in a lack of safety for the children, so visitors should be diligent about supervision and not allow other adults (prisoners or other visitors) to supervise their children. No adults (neither prisoners nor visitors) are allowed in the play area except when supervising their children.

Contact Between Prisoners and Visitors

Visitors may briefly embrace their loved one while masked upon greeting and again upon exiting the visiting room. We understand loved ones are eager to reunite, but at this time, physical contact must be limited to avoid spread of COVID-19.

Physical contact between a prisoner and visitor beyond that described previously, is considered “excessive” and can be cause for staff to terminate the visit and, in some cases, to either suspend the visiting privileges of the visitor for some period and/or to discipline the prisoner. Although most staff will use common sense and not overreact to transitory non-sexual touching (a prisoner physically guiding his/her wife/husband away from an obstacle as they walk, a mother brushing dirt off a prisoner’s shirt), behaviors such as feeding each other, touching each other’s faces, adjusting each other’s clothing, and the like should be avoided.

Food, Photographs, and Games

Visiting rooms have vending machines stocked with food and beverages for purchase by visitors and consumption by visitors and prisoners. A visitor may not bring any food or beverage from the outside into the prison and cannot take out any food or beverage bought at the prison when he/she leaves. Vending machines usually have sodas, water, sandwiches (including burgers), and burritos, popcorn, candy, pastries, and coffee. At some prisons, vending machines may also include fresh fruits and vegetables. The prices will vary for such items but usually are about a dollar for a can of soda or bag of popcorn and three to four dollars for a sandwich. The visiting room has microwave ovens for the heating of frozen items.

Although at most prisons the prisoners are allowed to go to the vending machines with their visitors in order to select the food items they want, no prison allows the prisoners to touch either the money or the vending machines. A prisoner who handles money is subject to having his/her visit terminated and may be disciplined.

Most prisons provide limited board and card games for prisoners and their visitors to play together. These may include Scrabble, Dominoes, Uno, Checkers, Chess, and other like games. Most prisons also have children books that prisoners can read to their minor visitors as well as religious materials from most major religions (the Bible, the Torah, the Koran).

Prison visiting rooms have digital cameras available for photographs of prisoners and/or their visitors to be taken. There is a cost for the photographs, usually two dollars for each photograph. At some prisons, the visitor purchases a “ticket” for the photograph either from staff in the processing center or from a vending machine in the processing center or in the visiting room. At other prisons, the prisoner is required to purchase the photo ticket from the canteen. Either staff or a prisoner who works in the visiting room takes and prints the photograph and it is given to the prisoner during the course of the visit. Either the prisoner may keep the photo (taking it back with him/her after his/her visit) or the visitor may take the photo.

Rules and Violations

Per the Department Operations Manual, Section 54020.29.1 – Suspension or Exclusion of Visitors from the Visiting Program, it states, “Visitors violating a policy, regulation, or law are subject to denial, suspension, or revocation of a visit in progress or exclusion from the visiting program in accordance with California Code of Regulations (CCR), Title 15, Subsections 3176 – 3176.3.”

All visitors should also be aware that CDCR is prohibited from recognizing hostages for bargaining to affect an escape by inmates or for any other reason(s). In addition, the prison may be surrounded by an electric fence. To protect visitors, especially children, from being injured, visitors are cautioned to stay away from the perimeter fence line.

It is a felony for a former inmate or parolee/probationer to be on the grounds of any prison for any reason without prior written approval from the Warden of that institution. Persons discharged from parole must provide proof of discharge along with the Warden’s written permission to visit.

This handbook has already touched on several rules relating to visiting, including rules regarding supervision of minors, physical contact between prisoners and visitors, and bringing or attempting to bring items into the prison. In general, rules exist to protect the safety and security of the prison, staff, prisoners, and visitors, (for example, not being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, not using gang slogans, or walking somewhere on prison grounds you are not allowed.) You should behave as a reasonable person would behave in a public place (for example, staying fully clothed at all times, not verbally or physically fighting with others, not being defiant to staff.) Prisoners and visitors are subject to having their visits terminated and/or suspended for rule violations and prisoners may also be disciplined for violations. Serious rule violations (for example, bringing drugs or weapons to the prison or engaging in sexual contact in the visiting room) can result in terminations, suspensions, and discipline even without warning. Less serious rule violations will usually, although not always, result in warnings first and termination, suspension, or discipline only upon a repeat violation.

A visitor whose visit is terminated or whose future visits are suspended, must be given written notice of the violation, the reason for the termination or suspension, and the name of the person authorizing the action. The visitor may appeal the action by writing to the Warden; the Warden will respond within 15 days. If the visitor disagrees with the Warden’s response, he/she can appeal to the Director of Adult Institutions in Sacramento (address at the end of this handbook). Appeals to Sacramento are to be answered within 20 days of receipt by the Director’s Office, but may take longer due to the volume of appeals received and delays in the processing of mail. The action taken by the prison remains in effect while the appeal is pending.

A prisoner whose visits are terminated or suspended or who has been disciplined may appeal that process through the normal prisoner appeal process. Prisoners are given information about process when they first enter prison.

Overcrowding

Because there are limited visiting hours at prisons and the prisoner population is large, there are times when more visitors arrive to visit than the visiting room can accommodate. The prisons in very remote areas are less likely to experience this problem than those closer to more-populous areas. When the visiting room becomes overcrowded, staff will terminate some visits in order to allow waiting visitors to come in to visit. Usually, terminations will be of those prisoners and visitors who have been visiting the longest, at the time terminations become necessary, in order to make space for waiting visitors. All prisoners and visitors who have their visits terminated should receive a written termination report, indicating that the reason for the termination was overcrowding. If a visitor is not offered a termination report, he/she should ask for one.

In limited circumstances, a prisoner and/or his/her visitor may not have their visit terminated even if the visiting room becomes overcrowded. Generally, the exceptions apply to visitors who have traveled over 250 miles to get to the prison and haven’t visited in 30 or more days, to disabled visitors who must rely on specialized transportation to reach the prison, to visitors visiting due to a family emergency (such as death or serious illness), to visitors who have not visited in six or more months, and to prisoners who have married the day of the visit.

Leaving After a Visit

Prisoners subject to non-contact visits have time-limited visits, usually one to two hours; their visitors must leave at the end of the allotted time. Prisoners who receive contact visits are allowed to visit until either their visits are terminated or until the end of visiting. Visitors may leave a visit at any time or stay until the end of visiting. Whenever the prisoner and visitor leave, it is their responsibility to clean up the area in which they were visiting by returning any books or games and putting trash into its proper place. Incarcerated persons may share a brief hug at the end of visit.

All visitors must show (or collect) their identification and pick up their pass as they leave the visiting room. Visitors should check and make sure they have been handed the correct identification and pass by staff, as sometimes a mistake is made and is not caught until the visitor gets to the processing center requiring them to return to the visiting room to collect the correct items.

Prisoners who have had contact visits must undergo a search before they are allowed to return to their housing units. Some prisons require that the visitor remain in the visiting room until the prisoner has been searched and cleared. That process usually takes only a few minutes; but if the visitor is leaving at the end of visiting, there will be many prisoners to be searched at the same time and the wait (if the visitor is required to wait) can take much longer, up to 30 minutes. Once allowed to leave the visiting room, the visitor returns to the processing center (either by walking or by prison bus or van) and shows his/her identification and the stamp on his/her hand and surrenders his/her pass. He/she is then free to leave prison grounds.