Case Support

Improving the Quality of Jail Visits for Children and Their Incarcerated Parents in WA State


Although at prisons managed by Washington State’s Department of Corrections (DOC), in-person contact visitation is offered to most incarcerated parents and their minor children, the county and local jails in Washington still do not regularly provide in-person contact visitation between children and their incarcerated parent.  In fact, thirteen (13) of the state’s twenty-nine (29) county jails offer only video calls for those in their custody to maintain connections with their minor children and other loved ones.  There is growing research acknowledging that child well-being improves when children are able to maintain their loving and nurturing connections to their parents during parental incarceration.   See e.g. Julie Poehlman-Tynan (ed.), Children’s Contact with Incarcerated Parents (2015).

WDA-IPP’s efforts to change the glass barrier only visitation policies or the video calls only policies at Washington State local and county jails is ongoing.  If you are making progress in getting contact visits for minor children with their jail-incarcerated parents in your local area, please reach out to update us on those successes or to let us know if we can further support those efforts.

Please see WDA’s IPP’s report on this issue.

Please also see below a summary of WDA-IPP’s efforts to change policy in King County, Washington. As we learn of additional county successes, we will provide updates.



WDA’s Incarcerated Parents Project (WDA-IPP)  has supported a change to glass-barrier visits at King County’s Jails.   In May 2017, community members and experts asked the Law & Justice Committee of the Metropolitan King County Council (hereinafter County Council) to change county policy to provide contact visits for children and their parents in the county’s jails.  An educational briefing was held on this topic.  Presenting in support were formerly incarcerated parents, child welfare and well-being experts, among others.     Links to the video of the educational briefing, materials filed and actions taken by the  County Council, and hearings about this issue can be found here:


May 9, 2017

Law & Justice Committee-Educational Briefing, Item 12 (at 1:04:46)

  • Instituting Contact Instituting Contact Visits at King County Jails – Cunningham (2017) – Report

This report was submitted in support of an educational briefing to the County Council Law & Justice Committee asking that the county institute contact visits for children and their incarcerated parents. Published on May 9, 2017.


November 16, 2017

The County Council passed an ordinance (Attachment 74) requiring a feasibility study on contact visits between children and their parents incarcerated at King County’s jails and requiring a report from King County’s Department of Adult & Juvenile Detention (DAJD) be transmitted to the County Council by June 1, 2018.  A summary of the actions taken by the King County Council can be reviewed online.  The DAJD Report on the Feasibility of Establishing Contact Visits for Incarcerated Parents and Their Children in Compliance with Ordinance 18409, Revised 8/20/2018  was accepted by unanimous vote of the County Council on August 20, 2018.

June 18, 2018 

Law & Justice Committee Hearing Video – not available

June 26, 2018

Law & Justice Committee Hearing Video – Item 7 (at 47:44)

July 10, 2018

Law & Justice Committee Hearing Video – Item 5 (at 07:25)

July 23, 2018

County Council Hearing Video – Item 15 (at 17:14)

August 20, 2018

County Council Hearing Video – Item 8   (at 17:11)


How to take action:

If you or someone you care about have been affected by the glass-barrier visits policy in King County’s jails; or  if you are a resident of King County and want to improve the quality of child-parent visits at the county’s jails, please consider taking action:

  • For county residents, please contact your own County Councilmember here
  • For out of county residents directly affected by the policy, please contact the Law & Justice Committee members here


Sample message: 

I support contact visits for minor children with their parents incarcerated at King County’s jails.   All families deserve the opportunity to thrive. Funding should be provided to make the jail’s visitation spaces child-friendly and to develop a sustainable visitation program for children whose parents cannot afford to post monetary bail for release, or whose parents are serving sentences of less one year in the county jail.   Allowing children and parents to maintain their connections during brief periods of parental incarceration improve child well-being and makes our communities safer.  Providing contact visits strengthens reunification when parents reintegrate into their families.   By increasing successful reentry, it will reduces costs long-term.  [insert personal message].