Making changes for positive relationships for inmates and families

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Since the year 2017, Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC)  has taken many steps to prevent incoming contraband being transferred to inmates. Although the precautions taken have helped, many rules have been changed during visitation specifically. We wish to address those issues. Recently, meetings have been held on specific days at many facilities for visitors to voice their concerns with staff. Although our voices are being heard, there hasn't been a large turnout. Some family members live far away from the facilities and weren't able to express their concerns. There are new attempts being made to make visits more family friendly. However,the things that are lacking or being taken away outweigh any good being done. Below are the issues we wish to address in hopes that we can continue to make improvements while allowing safety to be a priority.

*Food in the visiting area has no nutritional value, especially for young children and those who have medical conditions such as nut allergies, diabetes, and sodium restrictions. Offenders miss lunch during visiting hours as well which is being replaced with junk food from vending machines. For instance, an addition of a cold food vending machine could provide snacks like yogurt, string cheese, and sandwiches which is also supplemental enough to substitute for a lunchtime meal. DOC could check with their vendors to see what sorts of food could be offered other than candy and soft drinks.

*The time it takes to process incoming visitors is longer due to added security and short staffing. Some facilities have introduced the ideas of pagers/buzzers as well as canopies and benches for outside waiting. These options provide no protection from the elements and technology doesn't always work as it should. Extra staff on visiting days could be provided if available, as well as additional indoor seating.

*Extra visiting time should be allowed when visiting area isn't crowded. Some facilities are strict about allowing the minimum one hour even when space allows for incoming visitors.

*In facilities where body scanners are being used, visitors and inmates should be allowed to the provided restroom in the visiting areas. Visitors are currently sent back to the processing areas to use the restroom and be reprocessed, slowing down processing for incoming visitors. Body scanners are able to pick up on feminine hygiene products and leave little to the imagination when it comes to a visitors anatomy of their body. This is on top of metal detectors,a pat down, and, if necessary, a strip search; after a body scan, this is excessive. Offenders shouldn't have to return to their living areas to use the restroom because they're searched upon entering and exiting the visiting area, nor should their visits be terminated should they need to perform a basic human function such as using the restroom.

* Female visitors shouldn't be asked to change their feminine products to one provided by VADOC when menstruating. On top of being embarrassing, it borders discrimination, sexual assault, and a religious rights violation in some cases.

*Activities such as coloring, board games, cards, books to read, and tv could be provided to keep children occupied instead of expecting them to sit still, especially very young children. Allowing books for reading could encourage literacy for both offenders and children and allow bonding between the two.

*Offenders are no longer allowed to hold babies and small children--a setback that could cause psychological and developmental issues for children and offenders alike as well as hinder their relationship. VADOC supposedly supports and encourages relationships with offenders and their loved ones, but denies them the right to hold their children.

*Offenders should be allowed to wear the clothes they wear in their living areas to visitation. The state issued jumpsuits and shoes take away from their dignity as a human.

* Facilities could have a special family day as an incentive for good behavior every so often on a day other than a regular visit day.  

We understand that contraband is a very real issue plaguing the facilities, but we as visitors and supporters have been stripped of many things because of it. We do, however, strive to see our loved ones do better and be better and become productive members of society, as a majority of them will be returning home. We feel as though Virginia Department of Corrections is hindering offenders’ health and relationships and separating them from the support systems that they need for successful re-entry.  We request that Virginia Department of Corrections review their visitation policies and procedures, and take into consideration the requests and suggestions being made by loved ones and supporters of offenders.

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