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Thursday, 29 June, 2000, 20:07 GMT 21:07 UK
Sex on sentence
Prison officer locking up
Locked up: English prisoners are denied conjugal visits outright
Prison inmate Gavin Mellor is taking the government to court in a bid to start a family.

Laywers for the convicted murderer, who has at least another seven years left to serve in jail, are challenging a Home Office decision refusing his wife access to artificial insemination.

The High Court says it will take several weeks to decide the case, which is the first of its kind in front of the English courts.
Gavin Mellor
Gavin Mellor's lawyers took the government to court

Mellor has opted for artificial insemination because, as for all prisoners in England and Wales, there is no right to conjugal visits.

Although the government is opposed to granting Mellor's wish, many other countries see "family visits" - as they are also known - as a basic right for prisoners.

Research by the International Centre for Prison Studies, at Kings College, London, found the following.

Canada: Eligible prisoners can have family visits lasting up to 72 hours every three months. Maximum security prisons have a 48-hour limit. Visits are granted to homosexuals, as well as heterosexuals, and common law partners who could prove they had an established relationship.

The visits take place in apartments designed to resemble family homes, within prison walls. Some are furnished with fitted bathrooms, and have gardens and barbecues.

Spain: Prisoners are allowed conjugal visits every four to eight weeks. They are held in private rooms and can last up to three hours. Couples are provided with condoms, shower facilities and clean towels.
Prisoner in cell
Single beds only in this prison

Conjugal visits are allowed for spouses if both are held in the same institution, but these last for only 20 minutes.

Belgium: Inmates in open prisons are allowed a three-night home stay every three months. Conjugal visits are only permitted to high security prisoners if their spouse is an inmate as well.

Russia: Prisoners are allowed two 72-hour visits per year. They are excluded from work during this time if they have worked additional hours beforehand or afterwards.

The visits take place in small suites of flats, within the prison walls. There is minimal supervision and visitors are allowed to bring food and civilian clothing.

France: Visits last up to 72 hours and take place in mini-apartments consisting of two small rooms, a kitchen and a dining area.

Zimbabwe: In 1998 officials considered introducing conjugal visits in an effort to curb the spread of HIV/Aids in prisons.

Brazil: While visits are generally freely granted to male prisoners, many states go against the idea for female inmates. Those that do allow them for women, often insists on extremely tight regulations.

Visits are also accorded to single men and women and to homosexual men.

Pressure on in UK

In the UK pressure exists to grant family visits and there is speculation that the law will face a serious challenge following the enactment of the Human Rights Act in October.

But a spokesperson for the Howard League for Penal Reform said the idea was "not particularly helpful".

She said: "Rather than having a wife or girlfriend come for the explicit purpose of having sex what you need is family days, in which sex can be a part. What's important is to preserve family ties during a prison term."

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