Mississippi First to Begin Conjugal Visits, Latest to End Them
After a century of using conjugal visits as prisoner –control practice, Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) Commissioner Christopher B. Epps has brought that privilege to an end. Only five states now allow conjugal visits.
In the Jim Crow days of the early 1900s, the warden of Parchman Farm, now the Mississippi State Prison, began the practice of conjugal visits. He hoped that sex would compel the mostly black prisoner population to work harder on the prison’s 1,600 acres of rich delta farmland. The warden allowed the prisoners time with spouses, or more often prostitutes, on Sunday. White prisoners were more likely to be participating by the 1940s.
In recent times, prisoners had to apply for the visits. To do so, they had to be married, have a clean prison record for the previous six months, and be housed in a medium or lower security prison. Only 155 of the 22,000 MDOC prisoners participated in 2013.
MDOC branded the practice as Extended Family Visits that could last up to 24 hours. Last year, that extensive practice was ended, but MDOC continued hour long conjugal visits. Such visits are hardly romantic.
Tina Perry, 49, has been visiting her husband every couple of months for the last eight years. She said the visits occurred in a small room with a thin mattress, which she called “nasty.” Nonetheless, she treasured it. “It’s your husband,” she said. “You take what you can get.”
“That little 60 minutes isn’t a lot of time, but I appreciate it because we can just talk and hold each other and be with each other,” said Ebony Fisher, 25, who drives three hours to visit her husband.
State Representative Richard Bennett began a legislative campaign in 2012 to end conjugal visits. An elementary school principal told him a few years ago about a student who came to school with a picture of a new sibling. The baby had been conceived during a conjugal visit while the mother was incarcerated.
“I don’t think it’s fair to the children conceived and to the taxpayers,” said Epps, whose 2012 bill to permanently ban conjugal visits failed, but was scheduled to be reintroduced in late 2014. “You are in prisoner for a reason. You are in there to pay your debt, and conjugal visits should not be part of the deal.”
Epps cited budgetary reasons and “the number babies being born possibly as a result.” When announcing the February 1 end of conjugal visits there are no figures available on the cost of or number of babies born out of conjugal visits.
In 1993, 17 states had policies allowing conjugal visits. Now, only California, Connecticut, New Mexico, New York, and Washington allow them.
Sources: USA Today; New York Times