Printer Friendly

The Effects of Conjugal Visits On Mississippi Inmates.

Conjugal visitation programs allow inmates and their spouses personal time together on prison grounds during which they may engage in sexual intercourse (Hensley, Rutland, Gray-Ray and Durant, forthcoming; Rutland, 1995; Hopper, 1989, 1969; Kent, 1975). In recent years, these programs have become one of the most debated topics within corrections. Public pressure, along with the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" attitude of society and politicians, has resulted in several states dropping their conjugal visitation programs in the last 10 years. Currently, only five states (California, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York and Washington) allow conjugal visits for inmates and their spouses.

Mississippi was the first state to allow inmates to participate in conjugal visits. However, no formal penitentiary records exist indicating the actual onset of conjugal visits at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman. Hopper (1989, 1969) argued that informal conjugal visits probably have been allowed since the institution opened in 1900. Official recognition of the program was not established until 1965 (Hopper, 1989, 1969). The first offender's unit and the first brick "red house" [called so because the outside walls were painted red] also were established that year (Hopper, 1989, 1969; Goetting, 1982). In 1972, the prison administration officially began to manage and support the program. Another advancement was made in 1972 that allowed female inmates to participate in conjugal visits at Parchman (Hopper, 1989, 1969).

In 1974, the conjugal visitation program was expanded to include a three-day family visit. The program addition allowed inmates' families to spend up to three days and two nights in apartments located on prison grounds that were built for this purpose (Hopper, 1989, 1969). In 1987, a women's facility (the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility) was constructed in Rankin County, Miss. All female inmates at Parchman were transferred to this new facility.

Currently, there are approximately 5,300 inmates housed in the Mississippi State Penitentiary and the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. Of these, approximately 350 of the 800 married inmates are allowed to participate in conjugal visits (Hensley et al., forthcoming). In addition, condoms are provided to conjugal visit participants to keep pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases to a minimum (Lillis, 1993).

There are three requirements inmates must meet prior to participation in conjugal visits in Mississippi. First, they must be housed in either minimum- or medium-security units. Inmates housed in maximum-security units are the only division of inmates automatically denied visits. Inmates also must provide proof of marriage, thereby rendering unmarried inmates ineligible for such visits. Finally, conjugal visits must be earned through good behavior (Hensley et al., forthcoming). However, inmates must be classified and apply for conjugal visits before they can be granted.

At-risk inmates, such as those who have sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, are denied eligibility. The conjugal visitation policy states, "In the event that a spouse of an HIV-infected inmate also is HIV-positive, the spouse may petition the commissioner of corrections for continuation of conjugal visits. If the spouse is HIV-negative, but desires conjugal visits and states in writing that they will practice safe sex, the spouse may petition for an exception ..." (Lillis, 1993).

Effects on Inmates

Since the first famous Sex in Prison study on conjugal visits was conducted at Parchman in 1969, advocates of conjugal visits have argued that these programs increase family stability and reduce homosexuality and violence in prison (Hopper, 1989, 1969; Burstein, 1977). However, Bennett (1989) found that most administrators did not believe that family stability could be maintained or increased and homosexuality and violence reduced by conjugal visitation programs. Conversely, many inmates -- particularly those participating in conjugal visitation programs -- report that it does, in fact, increase family stability and reduces homosexuality and violence (Hopper, 1989; Burstein, 1977).

Family Stability

Correctional systems in the United States that allow conjugal visitation programs stress the preservation of family (Goetting, 1982). Conjugal visits tend to maintain the nuclear family and at the same time, lessen the emotional stress of the inmate's spouse. During the 1969 study conducted at Parchman, inmates appreciated the emotional satisfaction of visiting privately with their spouses more so than the sexual release (Hopper, 1969). Studies support the idea that conjugal visitation programs strengthen or at least keep inmate marriages intact (Rutland, 1995; Burstein, 1977; Kent, 1975; Hopper, 1969; Balogh, 1964). In two separate studies (1963 and 1984) of inmates' ratings of the functions of conjugal visits in Mississippi, Hopper (1989) found that the majority of inmates felt that conjugal visits kept marriages together.

Violent Behavior

If violent behavior is to be repressed in prison, it is argued that some type of control mechanism must be implemented. As seen by some prison officials, conjugal visitation programs may serve as a behavioral control mechanism. Such programs enhance equilibrium within the correctional system by functioning as a reward for compliance to the institution's rules and regulations (Goetting, 1982). As found in Joseph Balogh's sample of prison wardens, conjugal visits acted as a stimulus for inmates to comply with prison policies (Balogh, 1964). In this way, conjugal visits served as a way to control the inmates' behavior (Goetting, 1982).


It has been argued that most inmates who engage in consensual homosexual activity do so because of loneliness or the need for a sexual outlet (Gordon and McConnell, 1999). Thus, one can assume that conjugal visits may meet these particular needs for inmates who participate in the program. Studies have found that inmates, especially those participating in conjugal visitation programs, believe that homosexual activity can be reduced by these programs (Hopper, 1989; Burstein, 1977).


Based on the reviewed literature, the following hypotheses will be addressed in the present study:

1) Inmates who participate in conjugal visits will have increased levels of family stability;

2) Inmates who participate in conjugal visits will be less likely to engage in violent activities while incarcerated; and

3) Inmates who participate in conjugal visits will be less likely to participate in homosexual activities while incarcerated.


Because maximum-security inmates are not allowed to participate in conjugal visits in Mississippi, participation in the study was requested from minimum-and medium-security inmates at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (a female prison in Pearl) and Mississippi State Penitentiary (a male prison in Parchman). However, only four of the nine units at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility and two of the 25 units at Mississippi State Penitentiary were selected for the sample; these were administrative decisions. Overall, 126 male and 130 female inmates agreed to participate in the study. The response rate was 30 percent for the male inmates and 33 percent for the female inmates. Although the response rates appear low, most prison research pertaining to sex has response rates at or below 25 percent.

Sixteen gender- and racially diverse graduate and undergraduate students distributed self-administered questionnaires to both the male and female inmates. Inmates were asked to raise their hands if they had any questions or needed one of the researchers to read the questionnaires to them. This approach of gathering data was used because many inmates have below-average education and literacy rates, which poses questions of validity.

Comparison of the prison population and the research sample show some differences. For example, the research sample overrepresented white male inmates (34.1 percent) compared to the racial composition of the male facility (23.4 percent white). Additionally, the research sample vastly underrepresented black female inmates (30 percent) compared to the racial breakdown of the female facility (68.4 percent black females). Also, 28 percent of the females in the research sample participated in conjugal visits, compared to only 9 percent (77 females) who participate in the program for the entire institution. Only 8.2 percent (266) of all male inmates at Parchman are allowed to participate in conjugal visits compared to 49.2 percent of the sample who were allowed to participate. Thus, one must exercise caution in interpreting these findings.


The first survey section assessed demographic and criminal history information. The independent variable included in the present study is one's participation in the conjugal visitation program. This variable measures the frequency of participation. Respondents were asked: How often do you participate in conjugal visits? Response categories included 0=no participation in conjugal visits and 1=participation in conjugal visits. Control variables included gender, race, marital status and security level.

Three major dependent variables (family stability, violence and homosexual activities) were included in the analysis. The family stability scale (FAMILY) was comprised of six items designed to measure the amount of family stability. Inmates were asked, "While incarcerated, how many times have you: received letters, phone calls and visits from your spouse and children?" The response categories were combined and coded as 0=never, 1=one time, 2=two to four times and 3=more than four times. Scores ranged from zero to 24 (18). The alpha for this scale was .8308.

The violence scale (VIOLENCE) contained eight items designed to measure the amount of violent activity during incarceration. The inmates were asked, "While incarcerated, how often have you: threatened to beat someone up, beaten someone up, threatened to stab someone, stabbed someone, threatened to rape someone, raped someone, threatened to kill someone and killed someone?" The response categories were combined and coded as 0=never, 1=one time, 2=two to four times and 3=more than four times. Scores ranged from zero to 24. The alpha for this scale was .8704.

The homosexuality scale measured an inmate's homosexual behavior during incarceration. The sexual behavior scale (SEXBEH) was made up of four items: 1) Have you ever kissed someone of the same sex while incarcerated? 2) Have you ever rubbed your body against someone of the same sex or allowed someone of the same sex to rub a body part against yours while incarcerated? 3) Have you ever touched the sex organs (breasts, vagina or penis) or allowed someone of the same sex to touch your sex organs while incarcerated? 4) Have you ever had oral or anal sexual intercourse with someone of the same sex (either giving or receiving) while incarcerated? Valid response categories included 0=no and 1=yes. Scores ranged from zero to four. The alpha for this scale was .9347. It should be noted that men and women who said that they had engaged in homosexual activity prior to incarceration were excluded from this part of the analysis.


To test whether conjugal visits would increase family stability and decrease violent behavior and homosexuality in prison, correlation coefficients and multiple regression analysis were employed. In order to determine the relationship between the independent variable and the dependent variables, Pearson correlation coefficients were examined (see Table 1).
Table 1: Pearson Correlation Coefficients for Pooled Sample

 Gender Race Security Marital

Gender 1.000
Race -.044 1.000
Security .156 .132(*) 1.000
Marital .257(**) .195(**) -.058 1.000
Conjugal .458(**) .107 .045 .599(**)
Family .308(**) .105 .030 .573(**)
SexBeh -.325(**) -.091 -.049 -.140
Violence .128(*) -.055 -.020 -.132

 Conjugal Family SexBeh Violence

Conjugal 1.000
Family .634(**) 1.000
SexBeh -.147(*) -.090 1.000
Violence .122 .004 .351(**) 1.000

2-Tailed Significance: (*) .05 (**) .01
Gender Participant's gender
Race Participant's race
Security Security level
Marital Marital status
Conjugal Participation in conjugal visits
Family Family stability
SexBeh Homosexual behavior during incarceration
Violence Violent behavior after incarceration

For multiple regression analysis, the unstandardized regression coefficients, the standardized regression coefficients and the total explained variance by all variables were calculated. Conjugal visits had a statistically significant effect on family stability in prison. Therefore, inmates who engaged in conjugal visits were more likely to have higher levels of family stability than inmates who did not participate. Conjugal visits also had a statistically significant effect on violent behavior in prison. Thus, those who engaged in conjugal visits were less likely to display violent behavior while in prison than those who did not participate. However, participation in conjugal visits did not have a statistically significant effect on homosexuality in prison.

Inmates also were asked two additional questions. When respondents were asked if conjugal visits reduced tension in prison, the results indicated that 80 percent of nonparticipants perceived that conjugal visits reduced tension. Additionally, 90 percent of all participants in the program felt that the visits reduced tension in prison. This finding was consistent with Burstein's (1977) study.

Finally, all respondents were questioned in order to evaluate if conjugal visits reduced same-sex activities while incarcerated. The findings revealed that 41 percent of all nonparticipants in the program believed that conjugal visits did not reduce homosexuality. However, 74 percent of participants felt that conjugal visits did reduce homosexual activities.


Most people have the need for love and sex. If these needs are not met by significant others, then other means may be developed in order to satisfy them. Such activities may arise in a unisex environment (i.e., prisons). Most inmates are deprived of normal relations with the outside world. Thus, there may be no better way to combat the deprivations of the inmate social system than by strengthening outside interpersonal relationships through the use of conjugal visitation programs (Hopper, 1989; 1969).

Past studies of conjugal visits in prison have found that inmates who participate in this program are more likely to have maintained or increased family stability while incarcerated. Results from the present study found conjugal visits had a significant, positive effect on family stability. Thus, conjugal visits have the possibility of maintaining and/or increasing family stability for married prison inmates.

Previous studies also have found that inmates who participate in conjugal visits are less prone to violent behavior (Hopper, 1989; Goetting 1982; Burstein, 1977). Results from the present study revealed that conjugal visits had a significant, negative effect on an individual's involvement in prison violence. In other words, conjugal visits have the possibility of reducing violent behavior by inmates. Because inmates can lose privileges for engaging in violent behavior while incarcerated, conjugal visits seem to be a control mechanism that can be used to repress this inappropriate behavior in prisons, at least for married inmates.

Also, according to previous studies, participation in conjugal visits reduces prison homosexuality (Goetting 1982; Burstein, 1977; Hopper, 1969). However, the present study revealed that conjugal visits do not have a significant effect on homosexuality during incarceration. This could be due to the nature of the questions, which lacked many of the power aspects of prison sexuality.

Even though some of the findings of this study were inconsistent with previous research, officials and public opinion in Mississippi still support this traditional method for maintaining family ties and reducing unwanted behavior (Hopper, 1989). As Hopper stated in 1989, "Family visitation works in Parchman not because Mississippi is different from other places, but because the program is sound and both the inmates and staff members want it to succeed."

Table 2: Direct Effects of All Variables on Family Stability in Prison
Variable B Beta Sig.

Conjugal Visitation (1=Yes) 5.703 .453 .000
Security Level (1=Medium) -.068 -.005 .928
Gender (1=Male) .351 .028 .645
Race (1=White) .126 .168 .867
Marital Status (1=Married) 3.666 .297 .000

Constant 4.988

Significant F=.0000
R Square=.480

Table 3: Direct Effects of All Variables on Violent Behavior in Prison
Variable B Beta Sig.

Conjugal Visitation (1=Yes) 1.789 .250 .008
Security Level (1=Medium) -.171 -.022 .758
Gender (1=Male) .682 .097 .224
Race (1=White) .377 .051 .481
Marital Status (1=Married) -1.991 -.284 .001

Constant 2.025

Significant F=.007
R Square=.0798

Table 4: Direct Effects of All Variables on Homosexuality in Prison
Variable B Beta Sig.

Conjugal Visitation (1=Yes) -.074 -.030 .748
Security Level (1=Medium) .162 .062 .391
Gender (1=Male) .694 -.290 .000
Race (1=White) -.244 -.097 .185
Marital Status (1=Married) .065 .027 .765

Constant .782

Significant F=.002
R Square=.092


Balogh, J. 1964. Conjugal visitations in prisons: A sociological perspective. Federal Probation, 28- 29:52-58.

Bennett, L.A. 1989. Correctional administrators' attitudes toward private family visiting. The Prison Journal, 66:110-114.

Burstein, J. 1977. Conjugal visits in prison: Psychological and social consequences. Lexington, Mass.: Heath.

Goetting, A. 1982. Conjugal association in prison: Issues and perspectives. Crime and Delinquency, 28 (January): 52-71.

Gordon, J. and E. McConnell. 1999. "Are conjugal and familial visitations effective rehabilitative concepts?" The Prison Journal, 79:119-135.

Hensley, C., S. Rutland, P. Gray-Ray and L. Durant. Forthcoming. Conjugal visitations in Mississippi: An urban sanction? The Researcher.

Hopper, C. 1969. Sex in prison. Baton Rouge. La.: Louisiana State University Press.

Hopper, C. 1989. The evolution of conjugal visiting in Mississippi. The Prison Journal, 66:103-109.

Kent, N.E. 1975. The legal and sociological dimensions of conjugal visitation in prisons. New England Journal on Prison Law, 2(27):47-65.

Lillis, J. 1993. Family visitation evolves. Corrections Compendium, 18(11): 1-4.

Rutland, S. 1995. Examining the effects of conjugal visitations within the Mississippi Department of Corrections: Family stability, violence, and homosexuality. Master's thesis: Mississippi State University.

Christopher Hensley, Ph.D., is director of the Institute for Correctional Research and Training and assistant professor of sociology in the Department of Sociology, Social Work and Criminology at Morehead State University in Morehead, Ky. Sandra Rutland, M.S., is a U.S. probation officer in Biloxi, Miss. Phyllis Gray-Ray, Ph.D., is research coordinator for the Institute for Disability Studies at the University of Southern Mississippi in Jackson, Miss.
COPYRIGHT 2000 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Hensley, Christopher; Rutland, Sandra; Gray-Ray, Phyllis
Publication:Corrections Compendium
Date:Apr 1, 2000
Next Article:On Behalf of Inmates: International Committee of the Red Cross.

Related Articles
Inmate Health Care -- Part 2.
U.S. District Court: MARRIAGE FAMILY.
U.S. District Court: CONJUGAL VISIT.
Communicable diseases--table 1-b: testing.
49. Visiting.
Private family visits are a matter of logic.
The cost of conjugal visitation outweighs the benefits.
The Islamic republic of Iran: implementing a program to fight HIV/AIDS in prisons.
Distance matters.
Egypt activists make case for prisoners' conjugal rights.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters