Do Prisons Run Criminal Background Checks Before Visitation?

By Michael Klazema on 2/11/2020

If you are hoping to visit a loved one in jail but have a criminal history of your own, you might wonder: do prisons run criminal background checks on visitors?

The answer will depend on the jail or prison. Higher-security facilities typically have stricter visitation policies than a county jail. In most cases, you can expect a jail or prison to perform a due diligence check before permitting a visitor to sit down with a prisoner.

Criminal background checks for visitors at jails or prisons will usually look for two things: outstanding warrants and existing criminal history. Checking warrants is a way for jails to prevent persons of interest from visiting and consulting with accomplices or acquaintances on the inside. Prison staff will arrest any visitors whose background check shows an outstanding warrant.

Things aren’t as straightforward with criminal background checks. Not all past convictions will lead a prison or jail to bar a visitor from seeing an inmate. Misdemeanor convictions or older offenses won’t receive as much weight as felony convictions or recent crimes.

Particularly in federal prisons, administrators will often deny convicted felons from visiting other convicted felons. There may be exceptions to this rule with a family connection—such as a spouse visiting a spouse or a parent visiting a son or daughter—but it will depend on the facility and the severity of the visitor’s felony history. If you are on probation or parole, those details could be grounds for the jail to bar your visitation as well.

While jails and prisons will typically conduct a criminal background check, those checks are not always far-reaching. Since most prisons are publicly-owned and funded by taxpayer dollars, they do not have the budget to run in-depth background checks for every visitation request that they receive. These entities will often have access to state criminal repositories or the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), but access will vary from facility to facility.

Criminal history is not the only reason that a prison may opt not to approve a visitor. Before the visitation process, most correctional facilities will require you to complete a visitor’s application. Some of the questions on this application will pertain to criminal history, including questions about felony convictions or past incarceration. Others will collect general information about you, including your name, address, and relationship to the inmate.

Failure to provide accurate information on this application will result in the facility denying your visitation request. Jails also usually deny visits from individuals who have previously worked in the department of corrections.

Use the National Criminal Background Check to get a sense of what a prison or jail might see on your criminal history check. These criminal background checks allow you to run your name through our extensive multi-jurisdictional criminal database, which includes more than 650 million criminal records as well as details about prison sentences, probation terms, and more.



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