RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The Virginia Department of Corrections has adopted new inmate visiting rules aimed at improving security, consistency and visitor flows.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that the changes took effect Dec. 1 for people planning to visit inmates after Jan. 1.
Department spokeswoman Lisa Kinney says anyone approved to visit in 2013 will not have to reapply until 2016.
Officials say there are nearly 73,000 approved visitors for Virginia's 30,000 prison inmates in more than three dozen institutions across the state.
Applications will now be processed at department headquarters in Richmond rather than at each individual facility, and can be made online or in writing.
Changes also include limiting visits to only one inmate unless the inmates are immediate family members. Those who are not immediate family include fiancees, girlfriends, boyfriends, neighbors, cousins and friends.
The department said that visitors who are already approved and visiting more than one inmate must select and submit the name of the more than one non-immediate family member they wish to continue visiting by March 15, and the change will take effect on April 1.
All new or previously approved visitor applications will expire in three years from the date of approval. A new application must be submitted online at least 30 days before expiration to continue uninterrupted visitation.
The department also said it may conduct an annual record check on each visitor and that prior visitation approval does not guarantee approval continuation.
Richmond-based Assisting Families of Inmates hopes "there are no unintended consequences from these new visitation policies that may discourage families from visiting," said executive director Fran Bolin.
"Our organization will ensure that families are accurately informed of the new rules and regulations," she said.
Assisting Families offers transportation for friends and family of inmates from Richmond to prisons on the first three Saturdays each month. It also runs a statewide Video Visitation Program in Richmond, Alexandria, Norfolk and Roanoke.
The department said that beginning Jan. 2., all sex offenders receiving visits from minors must receive an evaluation prior to the approval of the visitation.
Children who have previously visited and are already approved and documented in the department's visitor tracking system will be allowed to continue visiting while the offender evaluations are completed.