More Visits for Prisoners Lead to Lower Recidivism Rates


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In recent years, studies have shown
the importance of prison visitation in
helping incarcerated individuals avoid
criminal activity after their release
from prison. Most recently, in late
2011, the Minnesota Department of
Corrections published a study specifically
detailing how these visits affect
recidivism rates.

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More Visits for Prisoners Lead to Lower Recidivism Rates

  1. 1. September 2012  Correctional Forum Correctional Forum September 2012 A Publication of the Pennsylvania Prison SocietyPromoting a humane, just and constructive correctional system and a rational approach to criminal justice since 1787More Visits for Prisoners Lead to Lower Justice ReinvestmentRecidivism Rates Initiative toPrison Society’s Official Visitors Unique in the United States Decrease Prison Populationby Mindy Bogue SB 100 Becomes Act 122 of 2012 In recent years, studies have shown prisoners’ concerns and questions,the importance of prison visitation in and lending an ear to prisoners who by Mindy Boguehelping incarcerated individuals avoid just need someone to listen. They alsocriminal activity after their release are liaisons between prisoners and the In Januaryfrom prison. Most recently, in late administration, and keep the Prison 2012, Gover-2011, the Minnesota Department of Society apprised of general prison nor CorbettCorrections published a study specifi- conditions and any issues that should launchedcally detailing how these visits affect be addressed with the Department of the Justicerecidivism rates. Corrections. Reinvest- The Effects of Prison Visitation on Of- Corrections allocations are breaking ment Initiative. Thefender Recidivism examines the effects budgets. goal is to use provenof prison visitation on recidivism methods to decrease Since 1992, the average increase inamong 16,420 offenders released from the number of Pennsylvania’s corrections spendingMinnesota prisons between 2003 and people incarcerated has been $81 million. This year there2007. The study found that visitation in Pennsylvania and was no increase, but the budget is stillsignificantly decreased the risk of reduce recidivism. Half of the neces- $1.87 billion; seven cents of every taxrecidivism. While sary legislation to make this happen dollar is used tothis study was was passed in June. Formerly known fund prisons andbased in Minnesota, as SB 100, Act 122 reorganizes sections corrections. Ap-and follows similar of the criminal justice system to save proximately 44studies in Florida hundreds of millions of dollars. While percent of formerand Canada, much this is a huge step forward in how offenders are re-can be applied to Pennsylvania’s government handles incarcerated withinvisitation in Penn- criminal justice issues, there is concern three years, causingsylvania’s prisons. that the companion bill (presumably crowded conditions HB 135) reinvesting the saved money This report is and, some believe, is still in House Appropriations. Manytangible data prov- the need for more organizations also disapprove of theing what the found- prisons. deletion of pre-release, a program thaters of the Penn- John Hargreaves (r), Director of Volunteer Services, with Official Successfully rewards the best-behaved and leastsylvania Prison Visitors James Cavenaugh and Dr. reintegrating for- dangerous prisoners.Society understood Irene Baird. mer offenders is225 years ago: that Senator Stewart Greenleaf, who Photo from the Prison Society. crucial to reducingvisiting prisoners sponsored the bill, says, “Our past cor- recidivism, therebyhelps them stay in touch with the rections policies, based on increasing- lowering state spending on outside the walls, making it ly harsh and punitive measures have The money saved may be used to rein-less difficult for them to reintegrate created a deadly cycle of incarceration vest in reentry programs that work.into society after their release. that drains government resources This is where visitation comes in. and dissolves the social and economic Since 1787, Official Visitors of the Research shows the importance of so- well-being of entire communities. WePrison Society have been monitor- cial support in helping former offend-ing prison conditions, responding to See Visitors on page 5 See Reinvestment on page • 1
  2. 2. September 2012  Correctional ForumVisitors, continued from page 1ers not commit crimes. In fact, the more visits prisoners receive during Recommendations fortheir final year of incarceration, the less likely they are to recidivate. Friendlier VisitingIf visitation is so important, why is it so difficult? In 1973, the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Making visitation policies more “visitorStandards and Goals recommended that prisons develop policies friendly” is a low-cost way to deliver majormore conducive to visitation. Studies show that private family visits benefits. The increased cost for staffing wouldwere associated with an even larger reduction in recidivism than be offset by stronger ties of inmates to theirregular visits, yet private visits are hard to come by. communities and a consequent reduction Families and friends still experience problems when attempting in reincarceration, which means lower coststo visit incarcerated loved ones. For example, while the majority overall. Policy makers should also considerof Pennsylvania’s prisoners are from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, allocating greater resources to increase com-many of these men and women are housed in institutions through- munity visitation for inmates with little or noout the state, mostly in rural areas. Those who are of low income, do social support.not drive, are elderly, or have disabilities find it very difficult to visit Some proposals for improving visitation inthese prisons. Pennsylvania institutions could include: The findings in the Minnesota report suggest that prison visitation • Placing inmates in facilities as close tocan significantly improve the transition from prison to the communi- their home communities as possiblety. A prisoner’s risk of recidivism tends to decrease as his/her socialsupport increases. While much of the research involved family and • Encouraging community service agenciesfriends, the risk of recidivism was also reduced by visits from clergy, to visit prisonersmentors, and other community members. • Decreasing bureaucratic barriers toWhat’s different about Pennsylvania? visitation Pennsylvania’s rules for visitation are, like those of other states, • Increasing the cultural sensitivity of staffnot simple. However, visitation in Pennsylvania has some positive membersaspects that other states do not have. • Ensuring clean, comfortable, and hospi- Unlike many states, all of Pennsylvania’s state corrections institu- table visitation roomstions have weekend hours in addition to some visiting times duringthe week. Pennsylvania’s largest state prison, SCI Graterford, hasadditional visiting hours in the evening, Thursday through Sunday. Pennsylvania is the only state that, through act of legislature, allows Official Visitors from the Prison Society to check inon prisoners without having to be on a prisoner’s approved visitors list. An Official Visitor may go to a prison and spend the day talking to as many prisoners as he/she likes. This is particularly important for pris- It’s the humanity that volunteers bring in that’s terribly oners who have no family or friends visiting important. We’re their window to the outside. them. The Minnesota study shows that, while visits from family members are the best for —Joan Porter, Official Visitor reducing recidivism, visits from community members also help keep former offenders fromcommitting future crimes. Official Visitors may visit during regular visiting hours, but also at off-hours with permissionfrom the corrections officer in charge of the institution. They are also allowed into prison cells for private conversationswith incarcerated individuals. The Prison Society often receives letters from prisoners, thanking them for sending someone to visit them. One prisonerwrites, “I want to thank you for showing great concerns about my problems. I am having a hard time and someone didcome to see me and talked to me. I never felt so good in my life.” Pennsylvania legislators are looking for ways to keep communities safe while decreasing the amount of money spenton corrections. (See recommendations at top of page.) Encouraging prison visitation from family, friends, and communitymembers is one cost-effective way to reduce recidivism and the need for more and more prison beds. It is also imperativethat these positive prison visitation measures carry through to community corrections facilities so that those on parole orprobation continue to receive the support necessary to successfully reintegrate into society — particularly for those withlittle family support. To read the full report: To become a visitor: contact John Hargreaves, Director of Volunteer Services, • 5