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The bonds of a family can be severely tested when a member is incarcerated. Many prisons offer a conjugal visit program to help preserve a family's connection and to act as motivation for the prisoner. The visits differ by country, but all provide a private place for families to gather for up to several days without supervision. There are rules both the prisoner and the visitor must follow to be awarded a conjugal visit.
One of the more common views of a conjugal visit's purpose is that it is only for sex between spouses. Intercourse can be part of a conjugal visit, but for most prisons, it is not the biggest reason for its existence. The actual makeup of conjugal visitation differs from country to country, but it generally allows for family members to visit with the prisoner in private, without any barriers between them, much like if they were at home. During these visits, spouses and children are allowed to visit, with the intent of helping the family deal with the stress of incarceration by allowing them to function almost as normal for a few hours or, in some countries, for as long as three days.
The family incentive of conjugal visits isn't the only benefit that prisons receive from these private sessions. The visits act as a reward for good behavior and are not seen as a right of the prisoner. In many cases, the prisoner must not have had any violations during a period of time before the visit. If that person has broken the rules, he or she can be denied spending private time with family members. Many prisons find this to be helpful in controlling the prisoner population.
Conjugal prison visits rarely happen within the walls of the actual prison, but none occur offsite, either. Most prisons offer a special place that allows the prisoner and his family to relax and have some privacy. Many prisons offer a cabin or trailer for visits, and some, such as prisons in France, offer an on-site apartment.
The prisoners must have a clean conduct record, but in most cases, the visitors also must pass several standards. The most common test is a background check, because most people with a questionable legal record will not be permitted inside the prison. In many countries, individuals must pass a sexually transmitted disease test before a conjugal visit, in order to prevent the outbreak of certain diseases inside the prison.
Conjugal visits often come under fire as a way of corrupting or traumatizing the kids of the person in prison.
In reality I think it is much better for the kids to understand that their parent did something wrong and is in the grown up equivalent of "time out". That way they know for sure that it is nothing that they did to drive the parent away. I've known kids who didn't get to see their parent while he or she was in prison and invariably the younger ones think they somehow did something to drive the parent away.
People are focusing on conjugal and familial visitations as effective rehabilitative concepts, when they should be focusing on the kids and what they get out of it.
The reason people think conjugal visits are always sexual visits is because of the way they are portrayed on screen.
Generally films and TV shows don't explore the real difficulties that surround a prison environment, particularly from the point of view of the kids involved.
They prefer to stick to the emotionally heart wrenching view of the child on the other side of a plastic screen from his father or mother.
In reality, the kids might get to spend quite a lot of time with their incarcerated parent, in a somewhat normal interaction, without a bad guy warden wandering past every five minutes to jar him in the ribs.