Conjugal visits is a controversial topic that raises a lot of questions for many people. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: California banned conjugal visits for lifers and all other inmates in 2003.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the history of conjugal visits in California prisons, the regulations around them, arguments for and against allowing them, stats and data on their usage, and the ultimate decision to ban them in 2003 under Governor Schwarzenegger.

We will provide details on how conjugal visits worked when they were allowed, the types of inmates who qualified, what exactly happened during the visits, their purpose and perceived benefits vs. drawbacks. We’ll also look at whether there’s any chance of reinstating conjugal visits in CA prisons today.

History of Conjugal Visits in California Prisons

Conjugal visits, also known as family visits, have a long history in the California prison system. These visits allow incarcerated individuals to spend private, extended time with their spouses or registered domestic partners.

Let’s take a look at how conjugal visits came to be, how they worked, and which prisons allowed them.

When Conjugal Visits Started and Why

Conjugal visits were first introduced in California in 1918 as an effort to maintain familial ties and promote positive behavior among prisoners. The idea was that allowing inmates to maintain healthy relationships with their partners could potentially reduce recidivism rates.

Over the years, conjugal visits became an important aspect of the rehabilitation process for long-term incarcerated individuals.

How They Worked – Requirements and Regulations

To qualify for conjugal visits, inmates had to meet certain criteria. They were typically reserved for inmates who had demonstrated good behavior, were not convicted of certain violent offenses, and had a stable relationship with their partner.

During these visits, couples were granted privacy in designated areas within the prison, such as conjugal cottages or trailers.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), the goal of conjugal visits is to “assist inmates in maintaining healthy family relationships, reduce the potential for domestic violence and the risk factors leading to child abuse, and reduce the likelihood of recidivism.

Which Prisons Allowed Them and For Which Inmates

Conjugal visits were not available in all California prisons. Only select facilities offered this privilege, including San Quentin State Prison, California State Prison-Solano, and the California Institution for Women. Additionally, not all inmates were eligible for conjugal visits.

Typically, these visits were reserved for those serving long-term sentences, such as lifers or individuals with sentences of 10 years or more.

Conjugal Cottages/Trailers for Private Family Visits

To provide a comfortable and private space for conjugal visits, the California prison system established conjugal cottages or trailers within the prison grounds. These accommodations were equipped with basic amenities, such as a bed, bathroom, and kitchenette, allowing couples to spend quality time together during their visit.

The CDCR ensured that these living spaces were clean, safe, and maintained the security of the facility.

For more information about the history and regulations surrounding conjugal visits in California prisons, visit the official CDCR website:

Debates Around Conjugal Visits in Prisons

Conjugal visits, also known as family visits, have been a topic of debate in the prison system for many years. This practice allows inmates to spend time with their spouses or domestic partners in a private setting within the correctional facility.

Proponents argue that conjugal visits can have positive effects on the mental health and rehabilitation of prisoners, while opponents question the fairness and safety of such privileges.

Arguments in Favor of Conjugal Visits

Supporters of conjugal visits believe that maintaining family ties is crucial for an inmate’s successful reintegration into society. These visits provide a sense of normalcy and help to preserve the familial bond.

Research has shown that strong family connections can reduce recidivism rates, as prisoners are more likely to have a support system upon their release. Additionally, conjugal visits can promote healthy relationships and reduce the likelihood of infidelity.

Advocates also argue that conjugal visits have psychological benefits for both the inmate and their partner. These visits allow for physical intimacy, which is an essential part of any romantic relationship.

They provide a space for emotional connection and can alleviate feelings of isolation and loneliness experienced by inmates. Furthermore, proponents claim that the opportunity to have intimate contact with loved ones can help to reduce tension and aggression within the prison population.

Arguments Against Allowing Conjugal Visits

Opponents of conjugal visits raise concerns about the safety and security risks associated with this practice. They argue that allowing inmates to have private time with their partners can create opportunities for smuggling contraband, such as drugs or weapons, into the correctional facility.

Additionally, there is a fear that prisoners may use these visits to intimidate or harm their partners or manipulate them for personal gain.

Another argument against conjugal visits is the issue of fairness. Critics contend that not all prisoners have the privilege of participating in conjugal visits, as eligibility criteria vary across different states and facilities.

This raises questions about the equal treatment of inmates and can lead to feelings of resentment and unrest within the prison population.

Recidivism Rates – Do They Lower Reoffending?

The impact of conjugal visits on recidivism rates has been a topic of much debate. While some studies suggest that maintaining strong family ties through conjugal visits can lower reoffending rates, others argue that the effect is negligible.

It is important to note that recidivism is influenced by various factors, including access to employment, education, and support services, in addition to family connections. Therefore, conjugal visits alone may not be the sole determining factor in reducing reoffending.

For more information on this topic, you can visit the Bureau of Justice Statistics or the National Criminal Justice Reference Service.

The End of Conjugal Visits in California

Conjugal visits, also known as family visits, were once a part of the prison system in California. However, these visits have been banned since 1996. The decision to ban conjugal visits was made due to a variety of reasons, including concerns over safety, security, and the potential for illegal activities to take place during these visits.

When and Why They Were Banned

The ban on conjugal visits in California prisons was implemented in 1996. The main reason behind this decision was the increasing concerns over the safety and security of the prison system. It was believed that allowing inmates to have intimate visits with their partners or spouses could lead to various problems, such as the smuggling of contraband or the facilitation of illegal activities.

Additionally, there were concerns about the potential for violence or sexual assault during these visits. The prison authorities wanted to ensure the safety of both the inmates and their visitors, and believed that banning conjugal visits would help achieve this goal.

Stats on Usage Rates in the Years Before 2003

Before the ban was implemented, conjugal visits were a relatively common occurrence in California prisons. According to statistics from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in the year 2000, there were approximately 20,000 conjugal visits that took place in the state’s prison system.

This number gradually decreased in the following years, with around 13,000 visits in 2001 and 10,000 visits in 2002.

These statistics indicate that conjugal visits were quite popular among inmates and their families prior to the ban. However, it is important to note that these numbers only represent the visits that were officially recorded, and the actual usage rates may have been higher.

Reactions to the Ban from Prisoners, Families, Unions

The ban on conjugal visits in California prisons was met with mixed reactions from prisoners, their families, and unions representing prison staff. Some prisoners and their families were disappointed by the decision, as conjugal visits provided an opportunity for inmates to maintain a connection with their loved ones and work towards rebuilding their relationships.

On the other hand, some prison staff unions supported the ban, citing concerns over safety and security. They argued that allowing intimate visits could compromise the overall safety of the prison environment and put both staff and inmates at risk.

Possibility of Bringing Back Conjugal Visits Today

Efforts to Reinstate Conjugal Visits

Conjugal visits, also known as family visits, have been a topic of debate in the prison system for decades. These visits allow inmates to spend private time with their spouses or domestic partners in a designated area within the prison.

While the practice was once common in many states, including California, it has gradually been phased out in recent years.

Despite the decline in conjugal visits, there have been efforts to reinstate them in California prisons. Advocates argue that conjugal visits can have positive effects on the mental health and rehabilitation of inmates.

They believe that maintaining a connection with loved ones can provide motivation for prisoners to behave well and work towards their release.

Some studies have indicated that conjugal visits can reduce recidivism rates by strengthening family bonds and promoting successful reintegration into society. These findings have fueled the push to bring back conjugal visits in California.

Furthermore, proponents of conjugal visits argue that they can provide a healthy outlet for sexual expression within the confines of the prison. They believe that allowing inmates to engage in consensual sexual activity with their partners can contribute to a more stable and harmonious prison environment.

Why It’s Unlikely to Happen Anytime Soon

Despite the arguments in favor of conjugal visits, it is unlikely that they will be reinstated in California prisons anytime soon. Several factors contribute to this outcome.

Firstly, the cost of implementing and maintaining conjugal visit programs is a significant barrier. Prisons already face budget constraints, and allocating resources for conjugal visits may not be seen as a priority.

Secondly, concerns around security and safety play a crucial role in the decision-making process. Critics argue that allowing private contact between inmates and their partners can create opportunities for smuggling contraband or engaging in illicit activities.

These concerns outweigh the potential benefits for many prison officials.

Additionally, public opinion and political will also influence the possibility of bringing back conjugal visits. The perception that inmates are being rewarded with intimate visits while serving their sentences can be a source of controversy and backlash.


In summary, conjugal visits for lifers and all inmates were once allowed in California prisons starting in the 1960s. They were seen as a way to help inmates maintain family ties and provide incentives for good behavior. However, they were controversial and banned in 2003 due to costs, concerns over security and appropriate use of taxpayer dollars. The debates around conjugal visits continue today, but there seems little chance California will reinstate them given the current political climate.

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