Yes, you heard it right. If you are incarcerated in the state of Florida, your visitation privileges can be suspended indefinitely. Doesn’t matter if you’re married, in a relationship, have children or just a long, lost friend, visitation is considered a privilege and can be denied accordingly. Although extensive studies have shown that family support and family ties are the one most important aspect contributing to an ex-inmate’s successful re-entry into the real world, Florida’s Chapter 33-601.314 empowers the institutional classification team to suspend an inmate’s visitation privilege as a “management tool” from a period of three months to indefinitely, depending on the inmate’s specific infraction. However, the Florida Department of Corrections has abused this rule by applying it arbitrarily and without discretion by suspending inmates visitation privileges for lengthy terms for petty infractions. The insanity comes when an inmate is found guilty of masturbating (i.e. seen by a staff member doing such), in possession of or smoking marijuana, in possession of or taking prescription medication not prescribed to said inmate (ie ibuprofen, anti-biotic, etc.), and is sent to disciplinary confinement as a result. Then upon release from confinement, this inmates’ visitation privileges are suspended for two (2) years. Not only is the penalty extremely harsh but this type of lengthy suspension creates a detrimental gap in an inmate’s communication with family, friends and world and further hinders any steps toward rehabilitation.
This extreme rule stands in direct contradiction with the legislative intent of Florida Statute 944.8031 (1): which states – “the legislature finds that maintaining an inmates family and community relationships through enhancing visiting services and programs and increasing the frequency and quality of visits is an underutilized correctional resource that can improve an inmates behavior in the correctional facility and, upon an inmates release from a correctional facility, will help to reduce recidivism. So why is the Department taking steps to break family ties instead of following legislative advice to tighten those strings? Where is the proof that long-term/indefinite suspensions work? The mere fact that confinement dorms remain at full capacity are an indication that these harsh and severe suspensions are not working.
According to Judge Nancy Edmonds, US District Court, Michigan, “A long-term restriction on all visitation goes to the essence of what it means to be human. It destroys the social, emotional and physical bonds of parents and child, husband and wife, body and soul.” It works to destroy the very thing that makes the inmate whole. In short, it is dehumanizing.
It has been suggested that as long as an inmate can make contact via telephone, has access to the chaplain and to legal counsel, that should compensate for the lack of contact from significant others. However, if that’s the extent of an inmate’s socialization, during their tough years of confinement, citizens have good reason to be concerned about an inmate’s re-entry into the community. The success of the inmate in the real world has been found to correlate positively with maintenance of important relationships during his incarceration.
To have this severe rule revisited or to voice concern, you can write or call:Walter McNeil, Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections, 2601 Blairstone Road, Tallahassee, Florida 32399 or call (850) 488-7480.