Visiting Rights

The ability of prisoners and their loved ones to visit each other is extremely important. Having direct contact with each other despite incarceration allows healthy family ties to be maintained. Incarcerated people who are able to maintain deep connections with their families will be more successful upon re-entry. Visiting is especially important between parents and their minor children. The Bill of Rights for Children of Incarcerated Parents provides, “I have the right to speak with, see, and touch my parent.” (San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership). LSPC’s Bill of Rights for Incarcerated Parents provides, “I must have regular visits with my child whenever possible.”

LSPC is engaged in a constant struggle with prisons and jails to oppose their reductions of, and restrictions on, visiting. We also work to expand court-ordered visiting rights. We employ many strategies:

  • Promoting legislation, such as protecting in-person visiting from the introduction of video visitation
  • Drafting public comments on proposed regulations, such as overnight visits
  • Policy advocacy through meetings with CDCR officials
  • Individual advocacy and coaching
  • Filing litigation, such as amicus briefs on the denial of contact visits
  • Supporting family members’ advocacy on Inmate Family Councils
  • Circulating petitions to increase visiting days
  • Writing reports, such as on the impact of solitary confinement on family relationships.
  • Educating prisoners on how to petition courts for visiting rights, by teaching classes and writing self-help manuals.
  • Educating family members, such as our pocket guide on Visiting Rights [posted below]
  • Training lawyers and advocates on legal rights and remedies, through webinars and panel presentations at family law conferences
  • Responding to media requests on these topics

To get involved with these efforts, contact


Know Your Rights pocket guide: “Visiting Rights in California Prisons”


Click to open a printable PDF version


Click to open a printable PDF version

What should I bring with me?

  • Picture ID (valid driver’s license, passport, or state, military, immigration, or Mexican Consulate ID).
  • Adults bringing minors must bring legal proof that (1) they are the parent or legal caregiver, or (2) the parent or legal caregiver consents to the visit.*
  • Money for vending machines (one dollar bills, quarters); car keys; prescribed medication for serious or life-threatening conditions (in original, labeled prescription bottle or package).*

What should I not bring with me?

  • Cell phones; weapons; drugs (without a prescription).

For more details, see Visiting a Friend or Loved One in Prison.

Can CDCR search me while I am visiting?

Yes, every visitor must walk through a metal detector. Visitors may be searched with an ION scanner or a drug-sniffing dog. You have the right to refuse a dog search and request a non-contact visit. CA. Code of Regulations, Title 15, Art. 7, Sec. 3173.2 (c)(2)(B).

As of Nov. 2016, regulations do not explicitly state that you have the right to refuse an ION scan. You may be able to refuse an ION Scanner and request a non-contact visit by pointing to 3173.2(c)(2)(B).

What happens if I am stopped after a search?

If a drug-sniffing dog, ION Scanner, or metal detector alerts positive for contraband:

  • A guard may ask to give you a clothed full-body search. 3173.2(c)(3)(B). You can refuse this search, but you will be denied a visit. 3173.2(c)(3)(B).
  • If no contraband is found, you should be granted a contact visit. 3173.2(c)(3)(B).
  • If contraband is found, you will be denied entrance, and may be subject to arrest. 3173.2(c)(3)(B).
  • If the alert is due to prescription medication, you may (1) provide current verified documentation from a licensed physician, physician’s assistant, or CNP for a contact visit, or (2) ask for a clothed body search for a non-contact visit. 3173.2(c)(4)(B).

Always ask for a copy of any document that you sign and for any documentation of a denied visit.

Can CDCR search my car while I am visiting?

Generally, no. CDCR may look through your car windows and briefly look in your trunk when you enter or exit, but otherwise may not search your car without a warrant, your consent, or reasonable suspicion that your car contains contraband.

What should I do if my rights are violated?

  • Ask to speak to the Watch Commander, and ask if they can override the officer’s decision.
  • Contact your local Inmate Family Council, which may be able to help you advocate for your rights, at
  • Contact Legal Services for Prisoners with Children at; 415-625-7049.

November 2016