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This is not exactly the kind of family gathering you ever hoped to attend, but it is happening. You have to go to the county jail to visit a family member and you are wondering what will happen and how to handle it.
Jail regulations will vary from state to state and county to county -- and federal prison is yet another story -- so you must check the local rules as well as inquire with the jail. But here are some tips to minimize the anguish of this difficult family visit.
Ahead of the Visit
Before you drive out to the county jail, take the time to inquire as to hours of visitation for the specific location where your relative is being held. Jail visiting hours are often divided according to cell blocks, or some other category, so you need to know as much as possible about the person you are visiting to ensure that you arrive on the right day and at the right time and place. Once you know when and where you're going, plan to be there a little early.
Make sure to bring government identification. If possible, avoid bringing young children. Jails are unpleasant and scary and they are a great place for vulnerable young people to get sick. If you can't avoid it, and must bring your kid, do inquire in advance that it is allowed.
At the Jail
When you are at the jail you may discover that guards are brusque and that people act tough. It may seem unnecessary but do not take it personally or have an attitude if someone is rude with you. Your goal is to visit an inmate, so don't let anything get in the way.
Follow all the rules for visitation and try to keep cool during your visit. This is important because, although this may feel like the end of the world, you are at the jail to offer an inmate support. However difficult it is for you to deal with pressures outside, try to be emotionally available to the person you are visiting.
Away From the Jail
There are things you can do for your relative while they are in custody that can be a big help and do not require your presence. Inmates who are incarcerated for more than a few days will probably have commissary accounts. You can contribute funds for necessities like toothpaste and snacks to supplement the jail diet of baloney sandwiches.
Talk to a Lawyer
If you are unsure where to begin or what to do, get help from a criminal defense attorney. A local lawyer can help explain the jail rules, assist with administration, and visit an inmate that is a prospective or signed client. The best thing you can do for an accused relative is ensure that they are well represented.