Mass murderer Charles Manson has inexplicably been granted a marriage license to wed 26-year-old Afton Elaine Burton. It is just the latest example of California’s generous prison laws, which make a mockery of the idea that incarceration is supposed to be some form of punishment.
Burton, not the first woman in American history to suffer from Hybristophilia where Manson and other psychopaths are concerned, is not entitled to a conjugal visit with her soon-to-be-spouse because he is a life prisoner. Yet California is one of only four states remaining in the USA that retain the delusion that conjugal visits are an acceptable concept in the prison system.
In America it began in Mississippi where, in 1918, James Parchmann, the warden at the State Penitentiary, introduced conjugal visits to inspire the inmates to work harder. For a plantation penal colony high productivity was crucial and therefore, Parchmann reason, any incentive to boost economic output was worthwhile. Any notion that access to sexual relations was a privilege forfeited by the criminal fraternity obviously did not enter his mind.
A study of the conjugal visit at Mississippi State Penitentiary by Columbus Hopper in 1962 questioned the merits of the system. Unsurprisingly Hopper noted the prisoners’ favourable response to the policy and the staff too were consistently positive about it:
as a highly important factor in reducing homosexuality, boosting inmate morale and…comprising an important factor in preserving marriages.
Still, there was scant proof that it improved productivity and, indeed, there were arguments that conjugal visits heightened tensions within the prison. Single prisoners would not reap the potential benefits, it was suggested, and this in turn could lead to jealously and violence towards married inmates.
One of the prisoners interviewed spoke of the rehabilitative powers of the conjugal visit yet complained that ‘better facilities’ for the visits were required because ‘the present situation shows some disregard for feelings’.
This view is problematic and was echoed by inmates in the documentary Russia’s Toughest Prison:The Condemned about a Siberian jail holding only murderers. Allowed conjugal visits, some of the prisoners had had children during their incarceration and were still resentful that they were rarely allowed to see them or spend ‘proper’ time with their wives and lovers.
Prisons should be, first and foremost, places of punishment. Without this deterrent, crime will continue to proliferate, particularly when the economic realities of the modern world are too much to bear for many people and prison looks like an easy way out. Sex and marriage are an indelible right of the free. They should not be made available to any criminals, just as decent meals and excessive recreational opportunities should not be.
Mississippi, the place where it began, ended conjugal visits this year. Hopefully other states and nations will follow a similar path.
Next to abolish? Marriage for inmates. People like Charles Manson – a man culpable of the murder of a pregnant woman – should not be granted such sanctity, even if it is to be shared with a woman of a dubious mental equilibrium.
Hopper, C.B., ‘The Conjugal Visit at Mississippi State Penitentiary’, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (Volume 53, Issue 3)