marriage in prison

Marriage in Prison: An Overview

Background on Marriage in the Prison System

The practice of inmates getting married while incarcerated may seem unusual to some, but it is relatively common in the United States prison system. Every state allows marriages between inmates or between an inmate and a non-incarcerated individual. Still, the requirements and restrictions vary by state.

Marriages between inmates have been occurring since the early 19th century. Historically, the policy aims were to encourage morality in prison and allow inmates to keep familial ties. Over 200,000 prison marriages occur in the U.S. every year. Supporters argue it gives inmates a sense of normalcy, responsibility, and hope. Critics suggest it complicates relationships with outsiders and raises security issues. Nonetheless, marriages remain a right for inmates today.

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Reasons Inmates Get Married

There are many personal reasons inmates choose to get married while in prison. Some do it prior to incarceration to make visitation easier. Others find love while imprisoned and get married before release. Here are some of the top motivations:

  • Companionship: Prison can be lonely. Getting married provides emotional support and a confidant who understands the prison experience.
  • Security: Some inmates get married for protection from other inmates. Being married sends a message that the inmate is committed to someone on the outside.
  • Normalcy: Even if separated, marriage provides a sense of normal life. It represents hope for a future together after release.
  • Religion: Some religions encourage marriage. Inmates may want to get married for spiritual reasons.
  • Privileges: Married inmates can sometimes receive expanded visitation rights, conjugal visits, and other privileges.
  • Love: While less common, some inmates do find genuine love and companionship during incarceration.
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The Process of Getting Married in Prison

Marrying an inmate comes with many requirements and restrictions. The process varies by state but generally includes the following:

Requirements and Restrictions

  • Permission from the warden for the marriage to occur
  • Background checks and approval of the non-incarcerated partner
  • No marriages between inmates sentenced to death
  • No marriages between inmates of the same sex
  • Limitations on conjugal visits in most states

The Wedding Ceremony

  • Ceremonies take place inside the prison, usually in the visitation room
  • The couple, officiant, and a few witnesses can attend
  • No food, music, or other typical wedding traditions allowed
  • The couple gets 1-2 hours together for the ceremony and photos
  • The inmate remains in handcuffs or shackles throughout

While far from a typical wedding, many inmate couples are grateful for the opportunity. The ceremony, no matter how small, represents hope for their future together.

Benefits of Getting Married in Prison

Despite the unconventional circumstances, marriage can have advantages for inmates and their spouses:

Emotional Support

  • Companionship helps reduce feelings of isolation and depression
  • A confidant to share struggles, hopes, and fears with
  • Gives both spouses motivation to get through incarceration

Privileges and Visitation

  • Expanded visitation hours may be allowed
  • Possible opportunity for conjugal visits in some states
  • Inmates may gain additional spending and phone privileges

Marriage helps humanize inmates by allowing small comforts. The support can improve an inmate’s mental health and behavior in prison.

Challenges of Prison Marriages

However, marriages between inmates face unique obstacles:

Separation and Communication

  • Inability to spend quality time together or be physically intimate
  • Heavily monitored communication like phone calls and letters
  • Conjugal visits rarely allowed, so no privacy
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Judgment from Others

  • Social stigma around relationships with incarcerated individuals
  • Doubts about the sincerity of the marriage from family or authorities

Divorce and Infidelity

  • Stress of separation leads to high divorce rates
  • Lack of physical intimacy increases cheating temptations
  • Difficult to work through marital problems while incarcerated

Prison marriages must weather many challenges. But committed couples can still find meaning in emotional and spiritual closeness.

Life After Prison as a Married Couple

For couples who do stay together, a new phase begins once the inmate gets released:

Transitioning Back to Normal Life

  • Learning to live together and nurture intimacy after long separation
  • Reintegrating into society and finding employment
  • Managing financial struggles together
  • Handling any continued parole requirements

Maintaining the Relationship

  • Working through conflicts that arise after release
  • Building trust and overcoming jealousy issues
  • Seeking counseling or mentors to support the marriage
  • Making time to connect and focus on the relationship

Marriage gives inmates motivation to rehabilitate and avoid reoffending. But outside prison walls, the marriage must adapt to the pressures of normal life. Commitment, compromised and counseling help released inmates adjust as husbands and wives.

Conclusion

Despite challenges, marriages between inmates allow prisoners to retain a sense of hope and humanity. The support and commitment provide benefits both during incarceration and after. While unconventional, these relationships can be as meaningful as any marriage. With work, patience and commitment, inmate couples can successfully build a life together, both inside and outside of prison.

FAQs

Are conjugal visits allowed for married inmates?

Only a few states allow conjugal visits. Most prohibit physical contact beyond brief kisses and hugs at the ceremony or during regular visitation.

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Do prison marriages have the same legal validity?

Yes, inmate marriages follow the same laws and requirements as typical marriages. They are legally recognized unions.

What is the divorce rate for prison marriages?

Estimates vary, but the divorce rate for inmate marriages is very high, up to 95% in some states. Separation and fidelity concerns often end the relationship.

Can death row inmates get married?

Most states prohibit inmates with death sentences from marrying. A few make exceptions for engagements prior to incarceration.

Do married inmates get special privileges?

Some allow private family visitation, expanded visiting hours, or joint correspondence. But policies vary, so privileges are not guaranteed. Counseling benefits both spouses.

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