They're not nearly as common as pop culture might lead you to believe.
1. ONLY FOUR STATES STILL ALLOW CONJUGAL VISITS.
In the United States, conjugal visits occur only in state prisons, not federal prisons. In the early 1990s, 17 states had active conjugal visit programs. As of 2015, though, California, New York, Connecticut, and Washington are the only states that still allow conjugal visits. Two other states that recently had conjugal visit policies in place—Mississippi and New Mexico—stopped allowing the visits as of February 1, 2014 and May 1, 2014, respectively.
2. THE PHRASE "CONJUGAL VISIT" IS ACTUALLY A MISNOMER.
Today, conjugal visits are called extended family visits (or, alternately, family reunion visits). The official reason for these extended family visits is three-fold: to maintain a connection between the prisoner and his family, to reduce recidivism, and to provide an incentive for good behavior. States no longer use the phrase “conjugal visit” to emphasize the program’s inclusion of all family members, rather than just the prisoner’s spouse/partner.
3. LIKE HOTELS, PRISONS THAT FACILITATE EXTENDED FAMILY VISITS PROVIDE TOILETRIES FOR THEIR GUESTS.
In the United States, prisons have special facilities (cabins, trailers, or apartment-style housing) dedicated just to extended family visits. Some prisons provide towels, sheets, toiletries, condoms, and lube to their inmates. Other prisons provide two-bedroom apartments with a living and dining room, DVD player, TV, and games like Jenga and dominoes. Depending on the state and the specific prison’s rules, visitors may be allowed to bring groceries and prepared food to the visit.
4. BOTH PRISONERS & THEIR VISITORS MUST FULFILL CERTAIN REQUIREMENTS TO GET PERMISSION FOR A VISIT.
The specific rules pertaining to extended family visits vary from state to state. Most visits in California, Connecticut, New York, and Washington occur only in minimum to medium security prisons, and inmates must have a record of good behavior and a record of clean health. A spouse who visits their husband/wife inmate must pass a background check, body search, and be registered with the prison’s visitor list.
5. CONJUGAL VISITS ORIGINATED IN MISSISSIPPI NEARLY 100 YEARS AGO.
In 1918, the first conjugal visits occurred at a labor camp called Parchman Farm (also called Mississippi State Penitentiary). The warden, James Parchman, wanted to encourage the African-American male prisoners to work harder, so he paid prostitutes to come and have sex with the inmates each Sunday. In the 1930s, Parchman Farm began letting white male prisoners engage in this program, and female inmates were invited to participate in 1972.
6. PRISONERS IN INDIA HAVE THE LEGAL RIGHT, NOT PRIVILEGE, TO BEAR CHILDREN.
In 2015, India’s government passed legislation stating that conjugal visits are a right, not a privilege, for married inmates. These inmates are also entitled, if they wish, to give their sperm to their spouse for artificial insemination. Interestingly, in 2014, prison officials in New Mexico cited the birth of children to fathers who were incarcerated as a big contributing factor (besides economic reasons) to end conjugal visits in the state.
7. PRISONS IN SAUDI ARABIA ARE SURPRISINGLY (ABSURDLY!) LIBERAL, LAX, & GENEROUS.
In Saudi Arabia, male inmates can have one conjugal visit each month. But that rule applies to each spouse, so men with multiple wives can have multiple visits each month! The Saudi government helps inmates’ families with money each month for housing, food, and education, and the government also pays for the travel (airfare and hotel) expenses that inmates’ family members incur to visit the prison. And, if the prisoner wants to attend a family wedding or funeral, he's given up to $2600 to give as a gift. The Washington Post reported that the Saudi government spent $35 million on these prisoner perks in 2014.
8. IN 2010, A GERMAN PRISONER USED HIS UNSUPERVISED CONJUGAL VISIT TO MURDER HIS VISITOR.
In April 2010, a 50-year-old inmate killed his 46-year-old girlfriend during a conjugal visit in a German prison. After sending him letters in prison, she became his girlfriend and participated regularly in six-hour unsupervised visits with him. The inmate, Klaus-Dieter H., had been imprisoned for nearly two decades for the rape and murder of a child. Unfortunately, he stabbed his girlfriend with a steak knife and strangled her during one of those visits. Because this incident came on the heels of a few other instances of slack security at German prisons (including prisoner beatings and escapes), many outraged Germans criticized prison authorities and the justice minister, Roswitha Müller-Piepenkötter. Ultimately, German prisons beefed up security and implemented stricter rules for conjugal visits, increasing the restrictions on which prisoners are allowed to have the visits.
9. BRAZIL'S CONJUGAL VISIT POLICY IS QUITE SEXIST.
In Brazil, both straight and gay male inmates can receive visitors, but female inmates rarely get the privilege of participating in conjugal visits. Unfortunately, discriminatory policies are probably the least of the female inmates’ worries: Brazil’s prison cells are overcrowded, filthy, unsanitary, and dangerous. Women in prison who are pregnant do not have access to medical care, and many female inmates are confined to isolation units without cause.