The Florida Department of Corrections is considering reducing inmate visitation by half at facilities that are short-staffed or face other strains.
That rule change is among 11 that the agency is considering for visitation rules.
People can now visit inmates Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. But if the draft rule is approved, the Department of Corrections can reduce an inmate’s visitation to every other weekend.
Mary Kuntz, a 72-year-old who lives in Venice, was distressed to hear about the potential visitation change. When her son was in a Panhandle prison, she and her husband would drive 8 1/2 hours to see him every other weekend.
Now that he’s closer, Kuntz and her husband visit every weekend. She said she enjoys hearing his laugh and sharing lunch.
“When we had COVID and couldn’t go for nine months, that was heartbreaking for me,” said Kuntz, who volunteers with Florida Cares, a nonprofit that works with incarcerated people and their families. “I just love to be able to give him that hug and that kiss.”
To determine whether a facility should have its visitation hours reduced, the rule draft considers a variety of factors over a previous span of six months during that prison’s visitation period.
Some of those factors include how much staff there is to supervise visitors; if there have been two or more fights between or among visitors, inmates or staff; if visitors brought in contraband four or more times; if visitation hours had to be canceled four or more times; and how often the number of visitors approach the prison’s capacity.
A spokesperson, Paul Walker, said the department “recognizes the vital importance of visitation during an inmate’s incarceration.”
Walker pointed to the department’s expansion of visitation at select incentive prisons, which have special privileges like more open movement and recreation time, as proof that it’s committed to ample visitation. He said changes to visitation schedules will “only be considered when absolutely necessary.”
Facilities on a reduced schedule will be reviewed by area and state administrators, Walker said.
Denise Rock, the executive director of Florida Cares, said nothing compares to being able to see your family in person.
But she said sometimes wardens of institutions can look at visitation as a chore rather than a way to use it to encourage desired behavior.
“It is not an extra chore,” Rock said. “We’re talking about families and children and parents. These are relationships, these are real people.”
Rock said she’s certain families will speak out against the rule. When another visitation change was proposed in 2018, hundreds of people objected.
She sees the possible change as violating the intent of state statutes, which say increasing visits for inmates is an “underutilized correctional resource.”
Another drafted change would require guests to schedule visits online and be approved before arrival — which Rock said penalizes families forced to make a last-minute visit because of work schedule changes.