Visitations for inmates heavily impact their integration back into society upon release and whether they will re-offend and add to recidivism rates. Many families are too far to visit or inmates lack the necessary support system while incarcerated. Until the system changes, inmates don’t have the tools to live a crime-free life upon release.
Dealing with Inmates: Judgement VS Empaty
Too often we regard inmates as undesirables, people who no longer deserve the rights they had taken from them. The truth is, they are people who made mistakes.
All of us have made mistakes in life, but those who end up in prison are those unlucky people (statistically people of color) who got caught and punished. Or they are those who didn’t have the opportunity to redirect the paths they were headed down.
This is not to say their actions should be condoned. Rather, the best course of action is opening avenues of empathy for them.
Creating Support Networks for Prisoners
My relationship when it comes to the criminal justice system is an interesting one. I have family members who have been incarcerated and other members who work in public defense and law enforcement. Not only does it mean I can never be chosen for a jury of the people, it also means multiple perspectives tug me in different ways.
When it comes to inmates and those convicted, one thing my public defender family member said stuck with me. The most consistent pattern he sees with repeat offenders is the lack of a support networks.
This is, unfortunately, where the American way tends to steer us off-track. We tell ourselves a cultural narrative in which “a man must pick himself up by his strength alone.”
Employment After Prison
We insist that relying on other people somehow makes a person less capable. While independence might have its merits in some arenas, recovering from a criminal record isn’t one of them.
The reality of employment post-conviction is not very optimistic. Many of us simply check an easy “no” in the conviction box on our job application forms without considering what it means for those who must fill in the “yes” box and explain what happened.
As one study pointed out, many prisoners rely on family members and friends for employment after prison (Christy A. Visher, Sara A. Debus-Sherrill, & Jennifer Yahner, 2011). Without those connections, few opportunities await inmates.
A study from 2005-2010 across 30 states found that of the over 400,000 state prisoners in the study:
- 67.8% were arrested within 3 years of release
- 76.6% were arrested within 5 years of release
That means after 5 years, less than a quarter of the released prisoners didn’t revert to crime.
Effects of Prison Visitation on Offender Recidivism
So, what can we do?
Unfortunately, this is a problem with the system, so it requires systematic change. As it turns out, in a 2003 and 2007 study performed by the Minnesota Department of Corrections it was shown visitations “significantly decreased the risk of recidivism” in inmates, where recidivism is the tendency of a convicted individual to reoffend.
But perhaps that is just a minority amongst the larger group. Unfortunately, that same study found that nearly 40% of inmates didn’t have any visitors during the entire duration of their stay (not including visits from their attorneys).
The data seems to indicate that connecting with family members and friends through regular visitations is the most effective way to prevent lapses post-release. Some studies have found that these connections greatly reduce stress for reintegration (Agnew, 1992).
Prison Visits Are Not Easy on Family & Friends
It might be easy to point the finger at the loved ones and friends of those convicted but remember that this is a systematic issue. Making those visitations isn’t as simple as driving down to the local prison.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics found in a prisoner survey that 63.3% of inmates were 100 miles or farther from their homes (2005). The numbers have grown substantially in the last 13 years.
To put that in perspective, imagine being the partner of one of these inmates. Perhaps you have one or more children to take care of by yourself. You have two, perhaps three jobs to support yourself and your kids, as well as your incarcerated mate.
Now imagine trying to find a way to make those trips to the prison, while juggling all those schedules and trying to make sure your family doesn’t starve this month. Feeling stressed yet?
Can Prison Visits Help Fight Recidivism?
And this is just one limitation. Depending on the state, bureaucracy might present an obstacle. Some states require visitors to present their SSN upon arrival, which is an impossibility for those without proper identification.
Or in the case of Washington state, a visitor can be turned away because they are “excessively emotional” (Washington State Department of Corrections). This doesn’t mention the strain incarceration has on the relationships between those on either side of the bars.
Simply put, the issue of recidivism, or re-offending, is too complex an issue to require a single solution. But if changes can be made to encourage visitations for incarcerated individuals, we might just be on the right track.
N. L. Sweeney is an English Creative Writing graduate from Western Washington University. His work has been published by Flash Fiction Magazine, Niteblade, Defenestration Magazine, Jeopardy Magazine and Inroads: Writers in the Community. He currently writes editorials and feature news pieces for Prison Rideshare Network. When Sweeney’s not writing, he busies himself with petting furry animals, learning Chinese and making friends in local tea shops.