Questions about prison visiting facilities...
June 14, 2013 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Writing a story with a tangential character to be executed in California. I have multiple questions about the visiting facilities for such a prison. Anyone with knowledge able to help?

My preference for the story's dynamics is that the visiting room be one with a see-through divider but that does not use the telephone system of talking to the person on the other side. (Because I need the prisoner to be able to say something to the visitor as they're near the exit door.) Or, if a person yelled loud enough in one of those phone visiting rooms, would they be heard or are they otherwise soundproof?

Does such a prison exist? Of course, it would have to be somewhere that someone would be awaiting execution.

If it does not exist, is there such a place in California where the two would meet in an open space with no divider?

If neither of these exists, is there a prison that fits these requirements outside of California?

In case it's important, the person is on death row for a brutal murder of his wife and the visitor is a family member (son).

posted by dobbs to Law & Government (13 answers total)
I have never visited a prison in California, but at Menard Correctional Center in Illinois, there are small visiting cubicles that are divided by a plexiglass wall with a metal speakerphone device embedded in both sides of the divider. A prisoner or visitor leaving the room who spoke reasonably loudly could be heard on the other side. Menard used to house some death row inmates before all death sentences were commuted in 2003.
posted by burden at 1:00 PM on June 14, 2013

Yeah I'm not sure how much you need this to be historically accurate but death row is in San Quentin (in Chowchilla for women) and is the only place in CA where executions are held. This document outlines what visitation for Condemned prisoners is like
Prisoners on Death Row, often referred to as “condemned” prisoners, are housed
either at San Quentin State Prison in Marin County (men) or at Central California
Women’s Facility in Chowchilla (women). “Condemned Grade A” prisoners on
Death Row may receive contact visits (meaning no partition between prisoner and
his/her visitor) unless their visiting privileges have been restricted for disciplinary
or security reasons. “Condemned Grade B” prisoners on Death Row may only
receive non-contact visits. All Condemned visits are in a secured booth and involve
the prisoner being escorted to visiting in handcuffs. Visits for all prisoners on Death
Row are limited in time (usually one to two hours)
So, no phone, no partition. Would this work? The web is sort of drowning with San Quentin links because that's where Ramirez was held, but you should be able to get more information on the specifics of the visiting room.
posted by jessamyn at 1:11 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Or, if a person yelled loud enough in one of those phone visiting rooms, would they be heard or are they otherwise soundproof?

IME (a small county jail), you can hear a prisoner's words if you are standing a ways away from the plexiglass. Mind, the rooms are not big -- narrow with sort of half-stalls down the roaw. However, if the prisoner spoke loudly enough for me to hear from near the door, then chances are nearby guards will also be able to hear it -- they may be on the prisoner's side of the plexiglass or in an adjacent room / booth.

In other experience, at a state prison, I went into a common lobby like any other waiting room (except I hope the chairs were screwed down?), then into a smaller private room with the unshackled inmate.

My jailhouse visits are so far just attorney / client stuff, so there is an emphasis on privacy and a notable lack of recording our conversations, so it might not be your context.
posted by mibo at 1:20 PM on June 14, 2013

Oh, and from a closer set up to the one you describe -- when I'm in the courthouse visiting rooms, face-to-face at a booth through plexiglass, yes, I can hear them a little bit. These are private rooms with the booth at the center, so if a prisoner hollered through that pane I could probably hear them even if I was not sitting in the booth.
posted by mibo at 1:22 PM on June 14, 2013

Look into volunteer programs.
posted by oceanjesse at 1:47 PM on June 14, 2013

Volunteers have completely different visiting protocols. Basically you aren't visiting- you're there as a teacher or something. There are no handcuffs, no searches, no partitions.

Personally, I don't know any volunteers who work with Death Row inmates, though there might be a few. They aren't the norm.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:04 PM on June 14, 2013

2000 story. You might want to check out the various forums for people who know the incarcerated.
San Quentin Family Council.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:31 PM on June 14, 2013

There used to be an organization called Friends Outside that had good info for families on how to visit, etc. They were de-funded, tragically, but some of their info is still floating around the web.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:37 PM on June 14, 2013

Hmm. Maybe they got a little money, because Friends Outside has a decently snazzy website right now.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:38 PM on June 14, 2013

You might try asking in the California forum or the Capital Punishment forums at Prison Talk. It's a forum primarily populated by family and friends of inmates, and there's a lot of discussion about the specifics of visitation policies, so you'd likely be able to find someone who could tell you what visitation policies there are like, or give you some ideas about ways to write the story that make sense. I've found that as long as you are respectful and polite and clearly identify yourself as a writer, people there are happy to help with journalistic and other writing projects. Most people are very interested in getting information out there about what prisons are really like.
posted by decathecting at 3:35 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Tangentially, you should keep in mind that as of 2006, there has been a moratorium on executions in California.
posted by mulligan at 4:23 PM on June 14, 2013

And that ruling was just upheld.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:28 PM on June 14, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, all!
posted by dobbs at 9:01 PM on June 14, 2013

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