The first time you visit a jail can be a stressful experience. There are a lot of guards, a lot of locked doors, and a lot of rules. Being unprepared can add to the stress and detract from the quality of the client meeting. But if you know what to expect you can prepare appropriately and make sure the visit goes as planned.

What to Bring

The first time I went to visit a client in jail, I forgot my bar card. Big mistake. I had to talk the front desk officer to take my business card, Google me, and then call my office to confirm. They eventually let me in, but it was quite a production.

At another facility, I made sure to leave all my change in the office. Big mistake. They use a locker system, and without a quarter you can’t store anything. Luckily someone was able to lend me a quarter to put my overcoat in.

Now I have a list of things I always bring when visiting a jail:

  • Bar license
  • Photo ID
  • Pen
  • Paper
  • A printed version of relevant case documents
  • A quarter

What Not to Bring

Based on the number of signs at my local correctional facility, one might conclude that people are constantly trying to bring guns, knives, and tobacco in. Of course, none of those things are allowed. Electronics are also generally prohibited. That means if you have your case file on your iPad, you may be in trouble.

But those things are pretty obvious. Some things you may not have thought of are: paper clips, rubber bands, and keys. All of which I’ve seen people bring to the jail by accident.

Things get a little more complicated for women, especially when visiting a male facility. Exposed skin is an absolute “do not do.” Open toed shoes and a lot of jewelry are also usually discouraged. I’ve even spoken to one public defender who was told by jail staff not to wear a wire bra, because it made the metal detector beep.

Know Before You Go

Knowing what you can and cannot bring to a jail visit is important. But so are the logistics of the visit itself. Every single facility is different. Ask around locally to find out what the policies are. Even small insights into the jail procedures can be helpful. For example, a jail I visit regularly allows visitation on the inmates’ pods. The first time I went there I was very surprised at this. Meanwhile, other jails make you meet with clients through the glass and communicate with a phone.

Finally, there are a few things to know to make sure a visit even happens.

Visiting Hours

Almost every facility has special visiting hours. Some facilities have extended hours for attorneys. Still others let attorneys come almost any time. But be careful. You could get stuck in lock down during a meal, or when they are counting all of the inmates. It’s not a fun way to spend your afternoon.

Contact Visits

If the jail lets attorneys meet with inmates face-to-face, that is the best option. The communication is simply better that way. But you may need to schedule those in advance. Ask around or call ahead to see if that kind of scheduling is necessary, and how far in advance you need to schedule.

The Visitors List

A lot of facilities make inmates fill out a visitors list. These are the only people that can visit the inmate. But if you were just hired by the inmate’s family, you may not be on the list. Find out how strict the facility is about this, and make sure to get the message to new clients that you’ve been retained and need to be added to the list.