The Cost of Conjugal Visitation Outweighs the Benefits

By Wilkinson, Reginald A. | Corrections Today, June 2003 | Go to article overview

The Cost of Conjugal Visitation Outweighs the Benefits


Wilkinson, Reginald A., Corrections Today


The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) has long-since valued the preservation of stable family and community ties as a part of the rehabilitation of offenders. As research has shown, a strong community support system is a vital element in the successful transition of offenders from incarceration back into the community. Arguably, the most important correctional tool to assist offenders in maintaining stable family relations is a visitation program that allows for meaningful interaction with the significant persons in their lives. Visitation privileges have been linked to increased positive adjustment while incarcerated and lower recidivism rates upon release. While many states have adopted conjugal visitation programs to further promote family relations, Ohio has not found that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages and financial cost to prison administrators, families of offenders and the community.

While conjugal visitation is mostly advocated to assist the offender in maintaining strong family bonds, the usefulness of the program in promoting this goal has not been clearly established. Conjugal visits may be more beneficial to maintaining already functional families than addressing the needs of a dysfunctional family, which is often the case for families of incarcerated individuals. While disputable, the majority of programs tend to place undue emphasis on the sexual aspects of a relationship rather than promoting emotionally healthy relations, such as when families are involved in communal family visitation. In addition, most conjugal visitation programs recognize only legal marriages between heterosexual couples. The establishment of nontraditional family support systems has become more common yet conjugal visitation programs do not recognize these relationships, opening administrators to claims of discrimination.

Instead of promoting healthy family bonding, the unsupervised nature of conjugal visits may actually lead to an increased risk to the physical safety of family members in some cases. While the literature is scant to document the incidence of family violence during conjugal visits, evidence suggests that male perpetrators of family violence remain predisposed to committing further violence during conjugal visits. Supervised visitation that enables interaction in a more, secure environment may better serve families involved in such dysfunctional relationships.

The risk to individuals who participate in conjugal visitation is not limited to dysfunctional family interactions. Clearly, conjugal visitation increases the risk of spreading sexually transmitted diseases by an already identified high-risk population. While prison administrators can provide education and the means to practice safe sex, there is an inherent inability to ensure adherence to safe sex practices. …

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