"We did some research and determined that some of the contraband that the inmates had was coming in through visitation," said Dennis Roland, of the state Division of Prisons.
In recent years, the prisoners have decided who they get to see. The state will now encourage prison superintendents to enforce an old rule that keeps the gate closed to anyone with a prior criminal record. In addition, children under 16 years of age will have to have a birth certificate to enter.
"That's really to make sure we know who it is coming in and we can also verify the age to make sure they are really a minor," Roland said.
Prison officials said they are out to better protect visiting children.
"We have inmates that, based on their crime, may not be around kids. I mean there could be a victim that some people might try to bring in and visit an inmate and we want to make sure that didn't happen," Roland said.
Ed Privette, with Prison Fellowship Ministries, understands what the state is trying to do, but he is concerned tougher visitation rules will destroy family bonds at a time when they are needed most.
"More than anything else, [it] helps break the cycle of crime," Privette said.
Civil rights advocates are considering a legal challenge to the new rules on the grounds they may infringe on visitors' rights. The prison visitation rules are scheduled to go into effect at the end of May.
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