Prisoner Visitation and Support: A Unique Ministry

Prisoner Visitation and Support (PVS) is the only nationwide, interfaith visitation program with access to all federal and military prisons and prisoners in the United States authorized by the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Defense. Sponsored by 35 national religious bodies and socially concerned agencies including Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and secular organizations, PVS seeks to meet the needs of prisoners through an alternative ministry that is separate from official prison structures.

PVS was founded in 1968 by Bob Horton, a retired Methodist minister, and Fay Honey Knopp, a Quaker activist, to visit imprisoned conscientious objectors. Prior to that, Bob Horton had been visiting prisoners since 1941 and Fay Honey Knopp since 1955.

In its first five years of service, PVS volunteers visited over 2,000 conscientious objectors. PVS was encouraged by these war resisters to visit other prisoners, and now PVS visits any federal or military prisoner wanting a visit.

Today, PVS has 270 volunteers who visit in more than 90 federal and military prisons across the country. They make monthly visits to see prisoners who rarely, if ever, receive outside visits. PVS visitors also focus on seeing prisoners with an acute need for human contact: those serving long sentences, those frequently transferred from prison to prison, and those in solitary confinement and on death row, including prisoners in ADX Florence, Colorado, and USP Marion, Illinois, the two most secure prisons in the United States. No other group has this access.

PVS is very selective in choosing local volunteer visitors; each is appointed only after a personal interview with one of the two PVS visitor recruiters. Visitor training is provided by ongoing contact with the PVS national office, a PVS training manual, a PVS video, and an annual workshop. PVS visitors must:

  • Be able to visit regularly, at least once a month.
  • Be good listeners, who reach out to prisoners in a spirit of mutual respect, trust, and acceptance.
  • Be aware not to impose their religious or philosophical beliefs on prisoners.

For more information, write: Prisoner Visitation and Support, 1501 Cherry Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102; e-mail:; phone: (215) 241-7117; fax: (215) 241-7227.

—Eric Corson
General Secretary and National Visitor
Prisoner Visitation and Support