The connection between prisoner recidivism and visitation is something that has been frequently studied and reviewed. In most studies, including one conducted last year by the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC), and one conducted by William D. Bales and Daniel P. Mears of Florida State University in 2008, inmate visitation was found to have a significant positive impact in keeping released inmates out of prison.
In fact, the study by the Minnesota DOC found that the risk of reconviction for a felony was 13 percent lower for inmates that received visitors in prison. This number was even more impressive when looking at revocation of parole. Prisoners that were visited were 25 percent less likely to have their supervision revoked due to technical violations.
This is an important finding in today’s society and economy. States are still strapped for cash in this challenging economic environment, and the incarceration of criminals is a significant expense. According to the report by the Minnesota DOC, release violators cost Minnesota an average of $9,000 for every return to prison. If visitation can decrease prisoner recidivism and, as a result, cut down on crime and the cost to punish repeat offenders, it’s worth exploring ways to make more people visit inmates.
Unfortunately, there are many challenges keeping family, friends and others from visiting prisons. First, visitation takes second fiddle to safety and security at correctional facilities. This means that visitors often have to undergo background checks – sometimes at their own expense – and uncomfortable security measures upon arrival. Families may also be geographically removed from their incarcerated loved ones, making visitation expensive and time-consuming due to requisite travel.
For families of prisoners that find the security measures, distance and expense of visitation too difficult to overcome, there’s always been the alternative of phone conversations. Unfortunately, even phone calls from prison can be financially challenging for prisoners. According to a recent article in the Atlantic:
“…families – who accept the calls collect – can pay rates up to 24 times as much as a normal call, sometimes as much as $20 for just 15 minutes, though the charges vary wildly state to state. In Maryland, for example, placing a call can cost $2.55 for the first minute, and each additional minute will ring up another 30 cents (and due to dropped calls, sometimes prisoners can end up paying for that costly first minute multiple times in one conversation).”
After ten years of petitions and pleas, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently released a notice of proposed rulemaking asking for public comments, a sign that they’re going to weigh in. However, even if prison phone calls become more affordable thanks to the FCC ruling, much has changed in the past ten years. New technologies are now available that could make the collect calls unnecessary, while also making face-to-face communication possible without the security concerns and travel. I’m talking, of course, about video teleconferencing (VTC).
Today’s VTC solutions are capable of enabling face-to-face communication between individuals regardless of the distance separating them. This means that prisoners could be “visited” by their loved ones, lawyers and religious leaders without them having to physically come to the prison. This makes visitation less taxing, time consuming and expensive, and ensures that more visitation can occur. That’s important since the Minnesota DOC study found that each visit, especially those closest to release, decreased the chance of prisoner recidivism.
Video visitation also is cheaper than regular visitation since it eliminates the need for added personnel focused on managing crowds and performing security checks. The cost savings to the visitation budget alone can justify the procurement of VTC solutions, and make it advantageous for prisons to offer their use to inmates at no charge. This not only provides a higher value visitation experience to the inmate, but eliminates the need for expensive collect calls.
Visitation is vital to avoiding prisoner recidivism, which is imperative for both reducing crime and saving state and local governments money during very difficult economic times. By embracing VTC for prison visitation, state and local governments can make communication between prisoners and their families easier and more accessible, while simultaneously cutting crime and costs.