Conjugal visits: No laughing matter

Staying in touch with the family

IN THE early 1900s Mississippi’s prisons allowed private female visitors—but only for African-American convicts. This was in the racist belief that it would calm their supposedly fiery passions. Thinking about conjugal visits has moved on a bit: much of the world offers them. Some researchers, prisons and inmates say they help rehabilitation. But in America and Britain policymakers look on them with distaste.In September Qatar’s Central Prison unveiled villas for spouses and children to visit married inmates. Turkish prisons introduced them for the first time earlier this year. Authorities in Costa Rica, Israel and Mexico have in recent years allowed them for homosexual inmates. Even Saudi Arabia and Iran have long allowed them for married prisoners. And many Latin American countries allow private visits for unmarried inmates too.But only five American states allow them, and in Britain they are banned. State officials in Ohio feared that they would lead to more disease and pregnancies (which touches on another delicate issue: condoms in prisons). Dr Chris Hensley, a criminologist who has advised American…

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