Can You Marry In Prison?
Relationships might appear hard in the outside world, but they are more difficult in prison, and most end up not working out. Getting jailed serves a major blow to not only the relationship with your spouses, boyfriends, and girlfriends but also with your family. With lots of restrictions, you see less of them, which is not healthy for any relationship.
Even worse, as you suffer loneliness in incarceration, the world outside does not stop. There even high chances that your loved ones may move on with their lives and forget about you. The little contact you maintain with them is monitored, which means you no longer have the right to privacy or engagement to any intimacy. Moreover, with little contact with your partner, it is hard to develop close ties or connect accordingly. This kind of condition and environment makes it very hard for even previously close relationships to thrive. Consequently, most relationships are moribund should one partner go to prison.
Nevertheless, the question, “can you get married in prison?” will always arise. After all, there are always some exceptions, and some relationships can stand the test of time even with little contact.
Getting Married in Prison
The American prison scene is always dynamic, with changes day after day and the amendment of existing laws to make inmates’ lives a little better. A popular case way back in 1987 branded Turner V. Safley, the High Court established that by preventing inmates from marrying each other, their right to marry was being violated. Since the ruling, correctional facilities all across the United States allow inmates to get married. Moreover, with same-sex marriages legal in all states, offenders in the same facility can marry each other as long as they follow the recommended guidelines and requirements.
For inmates incarcerated in federal facilities, the following policy is firmly in place:
- The prison warden is charged with approving or rejecting marriage requests; the request is only acceptable if there are no legal restrictions on the intended marriage or the marriage does not present a threat to the facility’s security or smooth operations.
- The warden approves the use of the facility’s resources for an inmate’s marriage ceremony. If the ceremony is deemed to pose a threat to the prison’s security and well-being, the warden may disapprove of holding the ceremony onsite.
- Inmates housed in different correctional facilities cannot marry each other; the two prisons could be operating on different schedules, making it hard to hold a wedding ceremony. In such a case, the two inmates have to wait until one of them is released. This might differ in the state, county, and city prisons, but it is the same in BOP facilities.
When is an Inmate Eligible to Marry?
Any inmate can request to marry, but their requests can only be accepted if they meet the following conditions:
- The inmate should be legally eligible to marry
- The inmate should be mentally competent
- The intended partner has confirmed through writing the intention to marry the applying offender
- The intended marriage does not pose any threat to the facility’s security, orderliness, or compromise of public safety; the jail staff critically reviews the marriage for all inmates no matter the security levels to ensure the matrimony does not circumvent existing policies and hence compromise security.
Who Approves Inmate Marriages?
Inmate marriages are approved by the following individuals:
- The prison warden. The warden may approve inmate marriages in the facilities they oversee. This kind of authority cannot be passed to any other prison staff.
- Relevant Community Correctional Manager; for inmates not held in federal facilities, a relevant community correctional manager can approve their marriage. For example, a federal inmate housed in a community correctional center, local detention facility, home confinement, or state custody could present their request to this office.
How Does an Inmate Request to Marry?
Getting married in prison is quite an engagement that follows a process with lots of guidelines and requirements. The process entails the following:
- The inmate submits their marriage request to the inmate’s unit team; after presenting the request, the unit team takes time to review the application and evaluate if it falls in line with the recommended policy. The team further collects information about the inmate from their probation officer, family members, or any other source of credible information about the involved individuals. After the evaluation, the team submits a conclusive report to the prison warden who makes the final decision. This process further includes:
- Determination of the inmate’s legal eligibility to marry through conversation and review of their central file, including the report submitted before incarceration. The inmate should not be involved in another legal marriage.
- Review of an inmate’s mental competence through evaluation of mental health reports prepared before and after incarceration.
- The unit team contacts the intended spouse to verify their interest in being in a matrimonial union with the inmate. The team might reveal information about the inmate to the spouse, or the spouse could request information about the inmate. However, the spouse is always advised to engage the inmate before requesting such information.
- The unit team then evaluates whether the matrimony could subject the facility to security issues, compromise its good order, or interfere with public safety. The team engages the prison captain accordingly on the same issue.
The warden writes to the inmate notifying them of their application’s fate; the response can be an approval or disapproval and is placed in the inmate’s central file. If the request has been denied, the warden will highlight the reasons for the disapproval in a written response. However, he/she will also advise the inmate to appeal through the Administrative Remedy Procedure if they are not satisfied with his decision.
The Expenses; if the request is approved, the inmate, the family, or the spouse is expected to foot the whole marriage procedure’s bills. Other sources approved by the warden could also take care of the expenses, but appropriated funds cannot be used for the matrimony.
Prison Wedding Ceremony
When an inmate’s request for marriage is approved, the prison warden can then approve the use of the facility’s resources for the wedding ceremony. However, if the ceremony comes along with security concerns or compromise of the prison’s order of things, the warden may disapprove of hosting the ceremony on site.
Nevertheless, if your marriage request is already approved, you cannot be entirely denied the opportunity to exchange vows with your loved one. If there are security and order issues, the facility will restrict the number of participants, control the place, time, and placing conditions on the ceremony. If the warden disapproves of holding your ceremony in the facility, they are expected to document their reasons.
The wedding ceremony expenses are another critical part of the marriage that the warden has to ensure are well taken care of. The inmate, their spouse, or family members are expected to incur the costs of the ceremony. Approved appropriate sources can also be allowed to take care of the cost. No appropriated funds are spent on the ceremony except the share used to take care of the event and the site.
The wedding ceremony is performed by the community clergy, a justice of the peace, or the Bureau of Prisons clergy. The individual facility’s chaplain should seek any of the above to preside over the ceremony. The institutional chaplain in the hosting facility will further help the inmate get prenuptial marriage counseling.
The warden is also expected to keep the marriage ceremony private with no media coverage at all. In case an inmate’s ceremony is likely to attract national attention, the warden is also required to notify his seniors, the Regional Director and his assistant, Central Office, and the Correctional Programs Division.
Benefits of Marrying an Inmate
There are little benefits attached to marrying an inmate considering the fact that you will lead separate lives away from each other. However, on their part, this could mean the world to them. It proves to them that at least somebody cares about them, and when they leave prison, they have something to look forward to. This is not only healthy for their rehabilitation but also makes their life in holding bearable.