Critics blast proposed prison visitation changes

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Proposed changes to visitation at Florida prisons are drawing pushback from families, friends and supporters of the state’s 100,000 inmates.

Under a current rule, visitation is allowed every weekend as well as on state holidays. But the Florida Department of Corrections is moving ahead with a rule change that could cut visitation in half, a plan that critics say ignores research showing frequent visits with family and friends lowers recidivism and aids prisoners’ reentry.

Under the proposed rule change set to go into effect Saturday, visits would be limited to a minimum of two per month, for two hours at a time, on alternating weekends, depending on the inmate’s corrections identification number.

About 100 people, many of them friends and family of inmates, appeared at a public hearing about the proposed rule in Tallahassee Tuesday.

Corrections officials maintain the change will help prison staff manage the number of visitors coming on a given weekend and prevent overflow crowds.

Richard Comerford, the Assistant Deputy Secretary of Institutions, said the changes are also needed, at least in part, because of an increase in people trying to introduce contraband into prisons as well as staff shortages.

“The number of recovered weapons, cell phones, and illicit drugs continues to rise across the state, within our facilities. Many of these incidents of contraband have been linked to visitation,” Comerford said.

But Melba Rios, whose fiancé is currently incarcerated, said family visitors are not the source of the contraband. Cutting back on visitation could have unintended consequences, Rios warned.