Are you wondering how to take photos inside a prison?
If you’re a keen photographer, you might be looking for the perfect location to get some amazing shots. If you’re a family member or friend of someone who’s been incarcerated, you may simply want to get a photo of your loved one.
Taking photographs inside prison is, understandably, not quite so straightforward as street photography or taking photos in public places. However, it is still possible to get photos inside a prison. Here’s what you need to know.
Visiting Your Loved Ones in Prison: Are Photos Allowed?
If someone you love has been incarcerated, you might be desperately keen to take photos with them. This is especially the case if you’re taking their children to visit them.
The good news is that many prisons will allow photographs during visiting time, though with limitations. For instance, it’s likely that photography in the visiting room will require the use of a Polaroid camera. You won’t be able to take in a mobile phone or digital camera: you’ll need to leave those types of items in a locker.
In many cases, guards will take photos using the Polaroid camera on your behalf.
Tracking Down Incarcerated Friends or Relatives in Florida and Other States
If you’re not sure where your friend or family member is, it’s worth knowing you can search current inmate listing by name (in Florida or in other states) to find them. This lets you find out where they’re being held, and also get other details that let you send money, letters, and more.
Taking Photos in a Disused Prison, on Location, or at a Hotel
If you simply want a prison-themed photo shoot, then your best option is to avoid regular prisons altogether. Instead, opt for a prison that’s no longer in use, a film set, or even a prison-themed hotel. For instance, you could try one of these prison/jail film locations in LA.
Avoiding working prisons lets you capture photos (or film) at your leisure, using whatever equipment you want, without lots of restrictions. If you’re planning to take photos as part of a trip or event, you might want to consider booking a former prison that’s now a hotel. There are a surprising number of these around the world.
Photoshoots of Current Inmates
What if you plan to take photos of current inmates or conditions inside prisons? This isn’t necessarily impossible, though it’s likely to be extremely difficult to get permission.
Depending on your project and what you’re trying to achieve, you may want to use satellite imagery or footage from reform groups such as the Prison Policy Initiative.
Taking Photos While in Prison
Prisoners aren’t allowed cameras or cell phones. In practice, though, some prisoners do manage to obtain smart phones and may be able to take and send photos. There are a number of cases of prisoners obtaining cell phones as contraband, with FCI Miami prison staff confiscating over 50 cell phones in a single day.
It’s never going to be easy to take photos inside a prison with inmates. There are many reasons why prisons don’t want recording devices inside — banning these protects both individual prisoners and also the whole prison organization.
But if you’re determined to take photos inside a prison, there are ways to do it. You can use whatever processes are in place to get photos with a loved one who’s incarcerated, or you can run a prison-themed photoshoot at a location without any inmates. If you want to engage in prison photography as a form of activism, then you’ll likely want to get guidance from and build on the work of existing prison reform groups.