Conjugal visits for married prisoners at Abu Dhabi’s biggest jail

Some inmates will also be allowed out temporarily to visit their families at home. Authorities believe the scheme will strengthen family bonds and values, and therefore benefit society as a whole.

Inside the women’s detention centre at Al Mafraq prison, Abu Dhabi, where the welfare of the inmates’ children is paramount: they even have their own nannies. Silvia Razgova / The National
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ABU DHABI // Five private rooms are being built in Abu Dhabi’s biggest jail for husbands and wives to spend time alone together.

Some inmates will also be allowed out temporarily to visit their families at home. Authorities believe the scheme will strengthen family bonds and values, and therefore benefit society as a whole.

“This is a project we are all very excited about and working on around the clock,” said Col Mohammed Al Zaabi, head of Abu Dhabi’s punishment and corrections department.

The large private rooms are already being built at Al Wathba prison for conjugal visits that will be offered to all married prisoners.

“We are introducing it because it is important for us in our culture to preserve family bonds and values. When an inmate is allowed home to spend a few hours privately with his wife and children – imagine how that will help strengthen his ties with his family,” Col Al Zaabi said.

Col Al Zaabi said there was a draft law authorising the visits, but the legislation had not yet been passed.

“We hope these visits will be legalised within the coming year, but a project like this needs to be carefully studied as several problems can arise if not properly implemented,” he said.

“We don’t want a wife to complain that her husband raped her and that they had previous problems. Also regular medical tests will have to be conducted. There will also be a need for paternity tests in case the woman gets pregnant during a visit.”

Col Al Zaabi said some inmates would be allowed to make a home visit. “Many husbands, Emiratis in particular, find it unacceptable that their wives mingle with other men.

“So when we studied this project of permitting conjugal visits we recommended that instead of asking these women to come to the facility, we would allow inmates to temporarily leave the facility and visit their wives at home.”

Inmates who would be eligible for such a programme are those serving sentences for petty crimes and not deemed a flight risk.

“You might have a prisoner who is in for a misdemeanour or a bounced cheque but has shown aggressive behaviour in the facility and has attempted to harm other inmates,” Col Al Zaaabi said. “It would be dangerous to allow such an inmate outside the facility.”

Conjugal visits in other parts of the world, particularly the United States, have been on the decline because of high costs and children born from the visits.

In 1993, 17 US states had conjugal programmes. Now, only six do.

salnuwais@thenational.ae