Can You Marry In Prison?

By Natalie

Updated: June 11, 2019


If you think relationships are tough in the free world, you don’t want to know what it’s like when you are in prison. Incarceration takes a huge toll on your relationships – not just those with spouses, girlfriends, and boyfriends, but also with family and friends.

Your life is essentially on pause when you are behind bars, but the outside world keeps going on without you. All of your communication with your loved ones is monitored, so there is zero privacy or real intimacy when you are locked up. And, having a true connection with someone is extremely difficult.

That’s not to say that you can’t develop friendships or romances with other inmates or maintain your relationships with those on the outside, but there is just a whole new set of issues when you are in prison.

I was single when I went to prison, and I never had a girlfriend while locked up. But, I was one of the few. Most women had spouses or significant others back at home or entered into a romantic relationship with another inmate.

There were also inmates who started a relationship with someone on the outside while they were in prison, so this leads us to the question: Can you marry in prison?

In this blog post I will talk about:

  • Can prison inmates marry each other?
  • Why would someone marry an inmate?
  • What happens if you get married in prison?

Can prison inmates marry each other?

According to FindLaw, in the 1987 case Turner v. Safley, the, “High Court determined that a regulation that prevented inmates from marrying without the permission of the warden violated those inmates’ fundamental rights to marry. Following that case, prisons have allowed inmates to marry — even Charles Manson was able to obtain a marriage license.”

Now that same-sex marriage is legal in every state, inmates incarcerated at the same facility can marry each other, but they have to go through a process and meet certain requirements.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has the following policy for inmates incarcerated in a federal prison:

“The Warden shall approve an inmate’s request to marry except where a legal restriction to the marriage exists, or where the proposed marriage presents a threat to the security or good order of the institution, or to the protection of the public.

The Warden may approve the use of institution facilities for an inmate’s marriage ceremony. If a marriage ceremony poses a threat to the security or good order of the institution, the Warden may disapprove a marriage ceremony in the institution.”

Inmates who are incarcerated at different facilities can’t marry each other because the two prisons are not going to accommodate a wedding ceremony. Instead, they will have to wait until at least one of them has been released.

In state facilities, the rules do vary from prison to prison. But, in general, they are similar to the rules set forth by the BOP.

Why would someone marry an inmate?

You can’t help who you fall in love with, but it does seem odd for someone who lives in the free world to want to marry an inmate. It is highly discouraged because the divorce rate is alarmingly high – near 85 percent – and the situation is incredibly difficult.

A person who is incarcerated can’t contribute to a marriage like someone in the free world. They can’t make money, pick up the kids from school, help pay the bills, or take you out for a date night.

I honestly can’t answer why someone would marry an inmate, but it does happen. However, it only benefits the person who is incarcerated because they have someone to send them money and to correspond with. But, there are literally zero benefits for the person on the outside.

A person in the free world who is married to a prisoner is essentially single, but married at the same time. You are living life on your own because of the forced separation, and the incarcerated spouse can’t contribute anything to the relationship.

Some people believe they have found love with someone who is incarcerated, and they go through the tedious process of making the relationship legal.

What happens if you get married in prison?

To put together a wedding in prison, the person in the free world has to work with the prison’s Family Visiting Coordinator. This person is the main contact for arranging the wedding once permission has been received from the warden to marry the prisoner.

Then, the inmate and their future spouse has to choose an officiant. This is usually the prison chaplain, but it doesn’t have to be. The prison can give a list of approved pastors to choose from.

There also has to be a witness for the wedding, and this will be someone who comes from the outside who is on the inmate’s approved visitor list. There is also the option of using an inmate who works in the visiting room as a witness.

Just like a wedding in the free world, an inmate and their fiance must have a marriage license, which has to be obtained by the person who isn’t incarcerated.

Each prison has its own rules when it comes to marriage. So, it is best to talk with the chaplain or the warden to find out what their specific rules are.

Once the wedding takes place, the inmate and their spouse are usually allowed a short visit and a kiss, and then they must part ways. Contrary to popular belief, conjugal visits are extremely rare, even if an inmate did just tie the knot.

After the ceremony, the marriage is legal, but the spouse doesn’t get any special visiting privileges or correspondence. The inmate goes back to being locked up, and the spouse has to go home alone.

Why do you think some people marry inmates? Let us know in the comments below.

Sources:  

Marriages of Inmates

https://www.bop.gov/policy/progstat/5326_005.pdf

Can you get married in jail/prison?

https://blogs.findlaw.com/blotter/2014/11/can-you-get-married-in-jail-prison.html
  • Like you said in your article..you can’t help who you fall in love with. I know this is absolutely true!! My husband is an inmate and he offers more to our relationship than you would believe. He’s my rock…he made a mistake but it doesn’t define him!!!

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  • I became anti death penalty in 1995 when I watched a documentary on Edward Earl Johnson only to be found innocent after his execution.It was then I began corresponding with both gp and death row Inmates.Last year I began corresponding with an inmate on death row in California.Next year 2022 I will be getting married on death providing we are approved.True you cant help who you fall in love with.A relationship is not just about being together and being intimate its also about communication love and respect.I have had a closer bond with inmates than I ever did when I was married.Besides its the 21st century society has changed.

  • Because true love doesn’t have much boundaries, I knew somewhat a man before he went back to jail and only realized how much he meant to me when he made a wrong decision and was imprisoned. We aren’t married or haven’t discussed it as of today but we do intend of being together. Why marry an inmate? I can answer that but first why be a true friend to one? For normally marriage is about sharing your life with a special friend.(at least to me).
    Among other reasons:-Because you realize that sometimes, often, they are people like anyone around you that have made bad decisions because of hopelessness and that by stepping up and being kind hearted and encouraging you can change their sight and life.
    -Because the man I knew would not show it to anyone but was a broken lonely soul. Because it’s the seed of my encouragement, honesty love and loyalty to him in that hard /worst time that grew in him and changed how he perceived himself and felt about himself and his surrounding/others.
    Because when you are so connected to someone you are like one soul split in half and you find each other no social barriers or physical ones will keep you from making a promise to each other, even if it seems crazy or insane to the world.
    Because when you have nothing really to loose but so much to give and can change someone’s life why not do it? Many free people marry free people and their marriages don’t last either and both sides are in anger for years sometimes on their own anyways. Why not make someone happy and chamged even if you live on your own if you feel you can and it changes the inmate’s way of life.
    Because I don’t care what someone’s past is or even their present it doesn’t have to be their futur.
    Just a few reasons and food for thought.

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