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.

Josh Camson
Josh Camson is a criminal defense attorney with CamsonRigby, LLC. He blogs about opening his own law firm here at Lawyerist.


  1. Avatar Roger J. Salmon says:

    How did you forget the most important rule of them all?

    No touching!

  2. Avatar Andrew P. says:

    Thanks for this bit of caged wisdom!

  3. Avatar BetterNoahLawyer says:

    A fine article. In my state phones are the biggest no-no, but really every jail runs theirs a little different. The best advice would be contacting local attorneys about local procedure or, with client and attorney permission, sitting in on a visit yourself.

  4. Avatar MDM says:

    It’s true the first time you visit a jail can be a stressful experience. But the novice detention center visitor should be warned: visiting a jail is far less stressful than visiting a prison. There are a few reasons for this: Jails are filled with people awaiting trial, prisons are filled with convicts. Jails are crammed with people waiting for their relatives to bond them out, prisoners are waiting for phone calls from the governor to spare their lives. Jails are populated with people who just got arrested and don’t know one another, prisoners have already paired off into hostile gangs. Jails are filled with people who probably had sex the night before their arrest, prisoners have not had consensual sex with someone of the opposite sex for a while. Jails are run by the sheriff an elected official somewhat beholden to the people he has incarcerated and their families, prisons are located far from anywhere and are run by people who don’t see customer service as their first priority.

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