November 15, 2001
RE: Visiting Room at WERDCC
Dear Mr. Bryan Goeke:
The members of the WERDCC Executive Council just returned from their monthly meeting--and in an agitated state. As you know, the visiting room has become quite an issue here. I can't help but be amazed that in regard to public relations this problem continues.
We house nearly 1500 women here, and with the addition of a fifth bed in each room, will house more and more. But the visiting room capacity is set at 130. That boils down to the fact that the most inmates allowed to visit at one time is 60--60 inmates who have only one visitor each. That's a pitiful maximum. Of course in real life, not nearly that many are permitted to visit at a time. Most visitors bring someone with him or her. This prison is a long drive from nearly everywhere.
By policy we have five hours on a visiting day allotted to visit, but it's impossible to get an actual five hour visit. Our visitors are no longer permitted to approach the entry area until the visiting hours commence. Of course, the check-in time can be lengthy. (In the past they were allowed to check in 15 minutes or so before the hour to speed the process.) Then the inmate is called to come to the strip search area. That line can also be long. It's not uncommon to wait 45 minutes before we actually see our visitor.
Because of the overcrowding, visitors are sent away before they wish to leave. This administration says that they can kick out a visitor two hours after they check in. In some cases that's only a little over an hour of actual face-to-face visiting. You should feel the tension on a typical Sunday as the officers go from table to table telling visitors that their visit has been terminated due to the crowd. Many visitors drive four hours or more to see their loved one for less than two hours. No one is happy about this. This last Sunday visitors, who come in about an hour after visiting hours began, were told to come back around noon. We were already at full capacity. I know of several families who whiled away hours in Vandalia waiting to gain admittance only to visit for a short time. Unfortunately, our visitors are treated almost like inmates themselves. And that hurts my heart. It's emotionally difficult enough to visit a loved one in prison under the best of circumstances.
We need to look closely at this problem--and we need to look outside the box. The maximum capacity of 130 needs to re-evaluated. Some of the tables could be replaced with smaller tables for couples and/or smaller groups. We are only allowed three adult visitors at one time, and children six and over count as adults, so most groups are small. The big round tables are not necessary. The visiting yard could be opened up so that visitors could mill back and forth. Most smokers would spend a lot of time out in the yard. That fact has been witnessed in the past when the yard was left open. There are four cameras covering the entire visiting room and yard plus officers. There is plenty of surveillance.
Contact with loved ones is of the utmost importance to us. Surely it's a well-known fact that inmates who receive regular visits are more likely to behave in prison and do better upon parole. It's the lost and alone who are in gravest danger of staying in trouble. As far as the community goes, it's extremely important for our families to see us and witness first hand that we are OK. I've seen many a mother weep at the sight of her imprisoned daughter--just to lay eyes on her and tell by her face that she's alright. I wont even go into the bonds between our children and grandchildren, who must attempt to maintain ties for years in the visiting room.
I know that Renz was a much smaller facility, but Officer Stacey Iburg ran the whole show all by herself with grace and skill. My mother still asks about her. It is possible to manage a visiting area with humanity and proficiency. In fact, Sgt. Powell did it here.
Please look into this matter. It's getting out of hand, and I can't bear to see children and the elderly mistreated, as well as my sisters in prison. Thank you for your assistance.
This page was updated on February 20, 2009