Published November 26, 2012
Imprisoned sex offenders are free to have conjugal visits in a handful of states, including New York and New Mexico, where one convicted killer and rapist has married twice and fathered four children from behind bars.
Exasperated lawmakers told FoxNews.com that letting sex offenders, including violent rapists and child predators, have intimate contact with visitors while serving their sentences sends the wrong message. But they said they doubt anything can be done about it.
"I think it's ridiculous that this is done on public property, why should there be a reward system like this," New York State Sen. Martin Golden, a former police officer, said. Golden said he any attempt to repeal this program would likely pass the New York Senate but fail in the assembly.
"The assembly would never vote on something they feel would hurt an inmate," he said.
For more than 40 years some inmates in New York State have enjoyed the benefits of the Family Reunion Program, otherwise known as conjugal visits, a little known service also available to convicted sex offenders.
"The policy does not automatically disqualify sex offender participants as a whole," said Peter Cutler, spokesman for the New York State Department of Corrections.
Cutler said a special review is required for any inmate who has been convicted of a heinous or unusual crime, or has been convicted of a sex offense, including a sexually-motivated felony, or any other offense where behavior of a sexual nature occurred during the commission of the crime.
Between 2011-2012, there were five inmates convicted of sex crimes admitted to the Family Reunion program out of 290 applicants.
According to Cutler these figures do not include participants who received approval during previous years, because the policy does not automatically disqualify,
"We do not track sex offender participants as a whole," Cutler said.
Participants in the New York program are provided by the prison pillows, blankets, bed linens, towels, soap and condoms.
Other states offering "family reunion or extended visit" programs are California, Connecticut, New Mexico, Mississippi, and Washington.
But California draws the line with sex offenders.
"If you are convicted of a sex offense in California, you are not eligible for an extended family visit, which can be 72 hours, at any time during the incarceration," said Dana Simas, a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections.
Connecticut's allows extended visits, but its policy is to prohibit sexual contact. Still, when pressed as to how officials prevent sexual contact during a sleep-over type visit, a Connecticut Department of Corrections spokesman acknowledged that sexual contact is not monitored.
"There are restrictions that only the lowest level of sex offenders can even be considered for that, and then it requires case by case examination," said spokesman Brian Garnett.
It is the remaining states that find that these types of visits do serve a purpose.
Officials in each state contend that while there is an assumption each visit is of a sexual nature it is also an opportunity to allow families to stay connected during prolonged periods of incarceration. A recent report in the American Journal of Criminal Justice also found that conjugal visits can decrease sexual assaults in prison.
Each state has its own requirement for participating in a family reunion or extended visit program, which can last 72 hours in some states, but generally must be an extension of a legal, pre-incarceration union.
Cristina Rodda, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico Department of Corrections, where sex offenders can have extended visits, agrees with the benefits of the programs and says there is virtually no cost to the state with support coming from inmate accounts and work.
"The majority of the funding comes from the inmates and not the state," Rodda said.
But some legislators who weren't aware of the policy said it should be reconsidered.
"I was not aware we were doing that and think it is a slap in the face to the victim, especially on the state's dime," said New Mexico State Senator Lynda Lovejoy. "We're providing too many conveniences to sex offenders already."
Lovejoy said she will raise the issue in the upcoming January legislative session.
Critics of the conjugal visits for sex offenders point to Michael Guzman as a poster child for all that's wrong with the policies. In 1981, Guzman kidnapped two women at knifepoint near the University of New Mexico, raped both and killed one. Guzman tried to kill the other woman – stabbing her 33 times – but she survived.
Guzman was later sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted in 1986. Guzman has since been married twice and fathered four sons while in prison. He is among 254 New Mexico inmates who are eligible for conjugal visits, not all of whom are sex offenders.
Joseph J. Kolb is a freelance journalist in New Mexico