Can You Tour a Prison?

For those who do not have much knowledge of correctional facilities, touring a prison is a great way to better understand how prisons function. In recent years, many TV shows and movies have included prisons in their storylines – further increasing the demand for tours.

So, can you tour a prison?

In this blog post, we will discuss:

  • How to tour a prison.
  • What is part of the tour?
  • Why some prisons prohibit tours.
  • How to intern or work at a prison after a tour.

How to Tour a Prison?

The first step to touring a prison is first knowing if tours are allowed. Some States prohibit tours for safety reasons, as well as the disruption they cause. Prisons are where people live, and having random persons just showing up to “take a look” can cause major problems within the facility, for both the staff and the inmates themselves.

It is important to first look into if your State allows tours. The State of Michigan for example does not allow tours of any kind. There are exceptions, for example, if you are in college and studying criminal justice, your class or college may be warranted to tour a prison.

In the State of Michigan, the closest someone on the outside can get to touring a prison is either by working within the prison or by visiting an inmate.

If the news that touring a prison is disappointing for you, you may be interested in visiting a number of prison museums and recreations. These facilities are not active prisons (obviously), but still can educate the public on what prisons are like, how they function, and how the prisons treat their inmates. There are even prison hotels that guests can book to truly get the prison feel without having to actually commit to going to prison for a crime.

Prison tours and other similar activities are big business. Even though in most states prison tours are not allowed, that does not mean you cannot still go to a prison.

What is Part of a Prison Tour?

Even though prison tours are not widely open to just anyone, doesn’t mean that they don’t happen at all. Prison tours consist of a “walkthrough” of the facilities while a guide explains what he/she is showing the group. Very standard tour procedure.

Before visitors embark on the tour, they are told very specific rules that they must follow by; rules include no talking to the prisoners, no wandering away from the group, and no taunting or explicit actions. They are fairly standard rules that one would expect to receive when on a tour of this nature.

Tour groups are protected by one or two guards, just to ensure safety for the group, as well as to answer questions and be a resource for those on the tour. The vast majority of people that are allowed to go on prison tours are either students who wish to further understand the field and location they hope to be working in after graduation, at risk children and teens who need to understand the consequences of their actions, or government officials who overlook and supervise corrections in their territory.

One of the most famous sets of tours that occur in the United States are similar to A&E’s hit show, “Beyond Scared Straight”. “Beyond Scared Straight”, for those who are not familiar with the program, is a television show that follows roughly 8-12 teenagers who are heading down the wrong path in life. These teens typically already have a police record and, in some cases, have already been arrested. “Beyond Scared Straight” is just one program in the United States, there are many other similar programs that help teenagers get back on track.

If you are a college student studying either law enforcement or criminal justice, you may also be allowed to visit a prison on a tour. Tours for these demographics can range anywhere from just a simple walkthrough, to a full immersion. Internships (which will be covered later in the article), are an example of what full immersion looks like for someone on a tour. Full immersion does not mean that that person will be treated like an inmate, that would lean more into the “Beyond Scared Straight” program.

Lastly, government officials visit prisons quite often. Many officials like to see the correction facilities they overlook personally. Candidates for office may be invited to tour prisons, but only officials can formally visit them.

Why Some Prisons Prohibit Tours.

Prisons prohibit tours because of safety. Every time a tour takes place, there is an added risk for there to be an injury, death or disruption in the institution. For many prisons, the risk is greater than the reward.

Prisons also do not like participating in tours because of the effect tours have on inmates. The majority of inmates do not like tours, they do not want to be put on display as something to “look at”. The argument could be made that prison tours are a large violation of a prisoner’s privacy.

Other reasons exist besides just the ones listed. Having females tour a prison with all males, males that have not seen a woman in sometimes months, can bring separate problems. The disruption with the very strict prison schedule can also be cited.

Prisons are not designed for tours; they are not meant to have visitors just stroll in. Prisons are high security places, prisons regulate every movement and every meal, having tours only opens up the prison to potential problems and security flaws. Prisons do not want people leaving before their sentence is up, prisons are not meant for guests.

For the tours that do occur, they are pre-approved, pre-planned, and highly supervised. The tours have a higher purpose than just “wanting to check it out”.

How to Intern or Work at a Prison?

For those that are interested in criminal reform, law enforcement, or criminal justice, this section is for you. Touring a prison can sometimes prompt someone’s interest in pursuing a career in law enforcement.

For those that want to do just more than tour a prison, taking up an internship may be a great idea. Internships in prisons are usually not what people expect. Interns rarely communicate with the inmates and are typically placed in operations roles. Just because the majority of internships that exist do not warrant any inmate interaction, does not mean there isn’t ways to do so.

One popular internship across the country is the “Parole and Probation Internship”. This internship consists of the intern working side by side with parole and probation officers – a great internship for someone looking to pursue that career.

Internships are commonly published on your State’s corrections website. Internships can also be found on federal employment websites as well. To get started, visit the appropriate websites and submit your application. If you are unable to find any internships in your area, it doesn’t hurt to call your nearest police station or correctional facility and make an inquiry.

Prison jobs are also found using the same methods as above. A great way to get your foot in the door is to start by doing an internship. If you decide that you are very interested right after a tour, ask your tour guide or the accompanying officer for information and resources to help connect you with the right people.

The requirements for internships at correctional facilities ranges and is typically job specific. Some internship will require a college degree, while others are open to high schoolers or those with a high school diploma or G.E.D.

The job market follows a similar pattern to the internship market. Correctional facilities look favorably on past experience in law enforcement, administration, criminal justice, or criminal reform. Prisons also like to hire individuals that are able to speak another language at a fluent level, preferably Spanish.

If you want to work within a prison but do not have any experience or education, enrolling in your local community college can open many doors for you in this line or work. Most community colleges cross the United States have criminal justice programs. While in community college you can also apply for internships within the correctional facility you wish to work at.


Do inmates know who is going to visit them?

Inmates have a good idea of who is coming to visit. When an inmate arrives at prison, they are able to put down names of people allowed to visit them. In order to visit an inmate, you must be on their list of approved visitors.

Can you kiss a prisoner on a visit?

Kissing, and any other form of touching is warranted is lower security prisons. Any touching that brings offense to others is not allowed, so kissing must be quick and not often. Typically, an inmate will be greeted with a hug and a kiss. This is allowed as long as it is appropriate.

Are Supermax prisoners allowed to have visitors?

Supermax prisoners are allowed to have visitors as long as the visits are pre-approved, and the visitors are screened. Time for the visits is kept very short, but yes, visits are allowed.

Thank You for taking the time to read! Would you want to tour a prison? Let us know your thoughts below in the comments!


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