This article was written by Sally Crosswell

Sally Crosswell has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Communication and a Master of International and Community Development. She also completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the College of Law. A former journalist, Sally has a keen interest in human rights law.

What Is A Conjugal Visit?


A conjugal visit is a designated period in which a prison inmate is allowed to be in private with a visitor. The visit allows extended, intimate contact, including sexual relations, between a prisoner and a visitor. In this way it is different to a supervised, regular prison visit, such as a contact visit, where hugging is permitted, and a non-contact “box” visit, where a screen separates the prisoner and visitor. The key aims of conjugal visits include preserving an inmate’s family ties, promoting the inmate’s reintegration into society on release, curbing recidivism and lessening prison violence. Victoria is the only state or territory in Australia which allows conjugal visits to prisoners.

Legislation

Section 38 of the Corrections Act 1986 states:

“(1)     The Secretary may in accordance with the regulations by instrument approve contact visiting programmes under which a prisoner’s family and friends may visit and have physical contact with the prisoner.

(2)     The Secretary may in accordance with the regulations by instrument approve residential visiting programmes under which a prisoner’s family may stay with the prisoner in the prison.”

In this section, “family” is defined as a “near relative” or any other person who has a long standing close personal relationship with the prisoner. “Near relative” is a partner, parent or grandparent (or a partner’s), child or grandchild (or a partner’s), or a sibling (or a partner’s).

The system

Conjugal visits are run by Corrections Victoria, a unit of the Department of Justice and Community Safety, at five prisons: Beechworth, Fulham, Loddon, Marngoneet and Tarrengower. The visits are in two categories: one focuses on a prisoner’s intimate partner relationships and the other on their relationships with children.

To be eligible for a conjugal visit, an inmate must be a medium and minimum-security prisoner serving a sentence of at least 18 months. Visitors must be on an approved visitors list, which the prisoner compiles and which can have up to 10 names at any one time. The conjugal visits are conducted in a motel-type setting. Beechworth prison provides family visits at a dedicated property near the prison.

Should conjugal visits be allowed?

The debate over whether conjugal visits should be allowed depends on the lens through which the visits are viewed. The goals of imprisonment are generally recognised as retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation and protection of society – how do conjugal visits fit within this paradigm? Do inmates forgo their right to spend intimate time with loved ones on account of being in prison?

Proponents say that in prisons across the globe, conjugal visits achieve their key aims. Such visits are permitted in countries including Brazil, Canada, Russia and Germany. In several states in the United States, conjugal visits were instigated to lessen the strain on families caused by the long absence of a jailed parent. Prison authorities allow sexual relations which they say has an added benefit of preventing homosexuality in prisons and affairs by wives.

Supporters say conjugal visits are necessary for a humane prison system, and refer to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which state:

“61. The treatment of prisoners should emphasize not their exclusion from the community, but their continuing part in it…

  1. Special attention shall be paid to the maintenance and improvement of such relations between a prisoner and his family as are desirable in the best interests of both.
  2. From the beginning of a prisoner’s sentence consideration shall be given to his future after release and he shall be encouraged and assisted to maintain or establish such relations with persons or agencies outside the institution as may promote the best interests of his family and his own social rehabilitation.”

They say prisons will remain unpleasant, and imprisonment will still confer a social stigma, even if conjugal visits are allowed.

Opponents say deprivation from contact should an accepted component of punishment for prisoners. They also point to the expense and administrative burden of allowing conjugal visits, such as the additional screening required of visitors and assessing the validity of marriages. Further, the fairness of allowing conjugal visits for some prisoners and not others has been questioned.

Safety concerns have also been raised. In Germany in 2010, an inmate murdered his girlfriend and attempted suicide during a visit. In the Australian Capital Territory, conjugal visits were established in 2011 but were scrapped after only 10 visits due to fears of compromised security.

Opponents also say it is important for public confidence that politicians do not appear soft on crime.

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