Family Visits in Prison

posted by Brian Judge on Jul 29, 2011 in Prison TV Blog | 0 comments
Family Visits in Prison

By Ricky Atkinson:  Family or conjugal visits were initially implemented in San Quentin prison in 1979 after the first female guard began to work in male units. That was the trade off in controlling the inmate population and allowing something as unusual as a female in the cell blocks.


Seeing the American’s smiling faces over this issue, we Canadians prisoners lobbied our government for trailer visits as they were first called; I think it was 1981 or 1982 that the first “trailer” rolled into Millhaven Pen as and experiment, likewise, the first female officers started working the units in Collins Bay prison. Uniformed female guards in the all male units changed the way prisoners reacted to staff and many including me, hated the look, smell, sound and attitude from them. In the Prison for Women until the day it closed, female prisoners would yell “man on the range!” anytime a male guard walked into their all woman world.


This historic evolution in family visits wasn’t as accepting by the entire prison population as one would think. It was voted on and the vote was won by a narrow margin. The consensus that it was an administration tool to destroy the unity of the prisoners; some thought the institution would threaten to take away the carrot of ‘family visits’ for the slightest infraction of prison rules.

I had a co-accused who ratted out someone over a murder to get one more day in the trailers with his wife in Millhaven in 1987. I had another co-accused who whined like a baby when his trailer was cancelled over a stabbing in Millhaven. He stated how inept the attacker was in not killing his victim because murder investigations normally took only three days and the investigation over the attempt murder took over a week. Naturally the prison remained on lock-down until the investigation was completed.

In the beginning only married lifers were allowed trailer visits. Lifers were, and still are the most calming influence within a prison environment. Inmates who lived common law protested vigorously and within a year or two they too were allowed trailers. They needed to prove a common-law relationship existing for at least two years prior to their arrest. I believe around 1984 or ‘85 it changed again, to anyone doing over five years married or not. By the late 1980’s the door opened for all prisoners who could prove a stable, on-going relationship with someone who had been visiting them for a protracted period of time.

The prison landlord Olie Ingstrup visited Millhaven in 1989; being on the inmate committee I asked that a third trailer be brought into the institution to facilitate the growing number of prisoners who had confirmed stable relationship wanting to use them. We disliked that the convicts in Bath minimum security institution were using Millhaven’s trailers units. The result was that, small houses were built in all the prisons that stand to this day. They help facilitate the family visit programs. Female guards are now entrenched in every facet of prison life and the misery of doing time continues for those who live and work inside our prisons.


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