Conjugal Visits Law and Legal Definition

Prisoners in the United States have had no opportunities for conjugal or overnight familial visits, while incarcerated in penal or correctional institutions. While some states now allow some form of conjugal or extended family visitation, the general practice is still not to permit such contact, and state policies of denying such contact have been upheld by the courts against a variety of constitutional challenges.

In New York, under regulations adopted by the state's department of corrections directive No. 4500, dated November 20, 1980, entitled "Family Reunion Program", states: "The following family members are eligible to participate in the Family Reunion Program: 1. Legal Spouses -- The husband or wife of the inmate and who is not him/herself a resident of a New York State Correctional Facility. Spouses must possess a valid marriage license" (§ II, subd D). [Mary of Oakknoll v. Coughlin, 101 A.D.2d 931, 932 (N.Y. App. Div. 3d Dep't 1984)]

While courts recognize that the right to marry is one of fundamental dimension and that an individual is not entirely deprived of constitutional protections when imprisoned for a crime, an inmate's right to cohabit with his or her spouse is necessarily precluded by the exigencies and operational considerations of the penal system. There is no constitutional right to conjugal visitation within the state of New York's prison system. The state may, however, authorize conjugal visits as a privilege. Where such a program is implemented in a reasonable manner, consistent with the inmate's status as a prisoner and the legitimate operational considerations of the institution, it will withstand judicial scrutiny.[ Mary of Oakknoll v. Coughlin, 101 A.D.2d 931, 932 (N.Y. App. Div. 3d Dep't 1984); Doe v. Coughlin, 132 Misc. 2d 709, 712 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1986)]

In Imprisoned Citizens Union v Shapp (1978, ED Pa) 451 F Supp 893, the court held that the denial of conjugal visits to prisoners does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment and does not offend the United States Constitution.