Jails Can Reduce Recidivism by Increasing Visitation

Texas Jail Project note: This 2011 report details the positive impact of visitation from family and clergy  on inmates, and it also describes how correctional officers can maximize and increase visitation! Our goal is to send a copy to prison and jail officials in Texas.

THE EFFECTS OF PRISON VISITATION ON OFFENDER RECIDIVISM

In their summary, these researchers point to studies in Florida and Canada that found visitation significantly decreased the risk of recidivism. And of particular interest to our chaplains, it was found that visits from clergy, along with visits from siblings, in-laws and fathers, were the most beneficial in reducing the risk ofrecidivism, whereas visits from ex-spouses significantly increased the risk! They suggest that “revising prison visitation policies to make them more ‘visitor friendly’ could yield public safety benefits by helping offenders establish a continuum of social support from prison to the community.” The study goes on to suggest that prisons and jails need to do something about  unvisited inmates, who comprised nearly 40 percent of the sample. ”

Accordingly, it is suggested that correctional systems consider allocating greater resources to increase visitation among inmates with little or no social support.” TDCJ and county jails in Texas could certainly stand to improve their visitation programs. Instead, funding cuts and a lack of understanding about the importance of visitation is leading to cutbacks in hours and days of visitation. The following excerpt describes the difficulties faced by families trying to visit their prisoners: “Visits from family and friends may be a prisoner’s best option for maintaining social support networks, but they are often limited. Families of prisoners have a difficult time visiting inmates for three major reasons. First, although a majority of prison inmates are from urban areas, most major prisons are located in rural areas far from the city center . . . .

For example, 30 percent of Florida state prison inmates are from the Miami-Dade County area, but only 5 percent of all Florida inmates are housed in Dade County. Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed that more than half of prisoners with children live more than 100 miles from where they lived before prison, and 10 percent lived more than 500 miles away. Given that many prisoners come from poverty, their families cannot typically afford the costs associated with visiting prisons so far away. “The second impediment to prison visitation are the administrative policies of prisons. Few prison visitation programs are designed to encourage visits. Rather, most visitation programs are subordinate to safety and security procedures. “Many prisons perform background checks on potential visitors and bar anyone with a criminal background. The state of Arizona has begun charging visitors for background checks, adding to the financial burdens of visiting families. Also, visitation hours are usually limited to a few hours and only on certain days of the week.

The Supreme Court has affirmed the rights of prison administrators to limit visitation programs for the sake of facility security and safety. The last major barrier to visitation involves the nature of many visitation programs and the uncomfortable settings. Generally speaking, prisons are not designed for the comfort of prisoners or visitors. The families of inmates often travelong distances to prisons, only to wait in line for hours in rooms that sometimes have no bathrooms or vending machines, and poor circulation (Sturges, 2002). After waiting for hours, visitors usually meet with inmates in large multi-purpose rooms, where they are closely watched and allowed little physical contact.”

 

* For more information contact the authors of this long and interesting report at 1450 Energy Park Drive, Suite 200 St. Paul, Minnesota 55108-5219 651/361-7200 TTY 800/627-3529