Prison Visitation



American society is comprised of different categories of populations including inmates. Inmates may be awaiting trial or could be already sentenced serving their jail term. Since they are part of the family, society and nation at large, they have the right of meeting visitors occasionally as they serve the term of imprisonment. This approach has been availed through personal visits, phone and video calls. The approaches however vary with prison category and specific regulations of the institution. There are pros and cons related to inmate visitation and details are analyzed in this report. Some advantages include emotional satisfaction and strengthening of inmates’ bond with their families. It has however been linked with disadvantages of undermining privacy between inmates and visitors as well as causing psychological disturbance among visitors especially below eighteen years. Inmate visitation is conducted in accordance with the policies that differ across regions. It is recommended that visitation duration to be increased and done based on the preference of the visitor/inmate rather than insisting on a specific approach.

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Prison Visitation

In America, at any given time, there are varied numbers of inmates either waiting to be charged or already convicted for various offenses. Policies have been put in place to allow visitation of inmates during pre-conviction and post-conviction stages. There are advantages and disadvantages associated with visitation of inmates by family members and friends. This research evaluates the benefits and drawbacks of inmate visitation focusing on its impacts to inmates and visitors, variations in regional policies regarding visits and possible recommendations for reforms enhancement.

Overview of Jail/Prison Differences, Visitation Approaches and Statistics Of Inmates

There is a difference between jail and prison in that jails are normally operated by the local governments holding inmates with a relatively shorter duration of imprisonment ranging from months to a few years (Clark, 2001). On the other hand, prisons are run by the national government serving inmates with a long duration of imprisonment.

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The visitation approaches involves varied forms like personal (face to face), phone calls and use of video calls (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2018). Visitation through video refers to the use of video conferencing through software and CCTV system that allows visitors and inmates have a visual conversation while still located at a distance instead of the commonly known face to face approach. This strategy enables people with digital devices like web cameras and computers to use their credit cards or internet to connect and communicate with inmates in prisons that have implemented installation of this service. According to the statistics, it was reported that by May 2016, more than 600 prisons in 46 states of the US had installed systems for video visitation. As a result, 74% of the prisons eliminated the face to face visitation approach in accordance to the prison policy initiative.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons statistics, the number of inmates varies across different ages between 18 and over-65-year-old prisoners. The highest proportion of prisoners is in the age bracket of thirties representing 35.2% of the prisoners (Federal Bureau of Prisons, 2018). Owing to this, visitation of inmates has become a necessity in most prisons. A comprehensive study from various prisons in 50 states revealed that on average, 70% of the inmates receives a phone call in the past one week while 31% are visited in person for the past one month (Rabuy & Kopf, 2015). The study further indicated there are differences of policies that govern prison visits for various states. For example, New York allows inmates in maximum security prisons to be visited throughout the year (365 visiting days) which can be considered to be the highest rate as compared to North Carolina which allows one visit in a week that lasts for at most two hours (Rabuy & Kopf, 2015). On the contrary, Washington State discourages visitation on account of avoiding creation of excessive emotions.

Benefits of inmate visitation

There is a general trend of maintaining the bond between the inmate and loved ones. Considering the high number of inmates in different prisons, they come from families and have association for example a husband or wife to someone, a brother or sister, a parent or child and a close friend to someone. Although imprisonment limits freedom of inmates’ movement among other rights like frequent communication, it does not eliminate their family association and blood connection (Mann, 2017). Owing to this, it is beneficial to maintain their relationship with the outside world and enable them interact with family members and friends. This allows them to connect emotionally and consider improving their behavior and aiming to regain freedom.

Human beings are normally created to interact with each other and share daily achievements, frustrations and challenges. This provides a balanced life for a person which makes life admirable. However, remaining in isolation for a long time can break this bond and create bitterness among the inmates as they feel a sense of hatred against other people. Allowing visitation is an ideal way of providing an opportunity for continued interaction with people in the outside world. This creates a balanced emotional life and positive attitude among inmates towards life (Clark, 2001). Also, it has positive psychological impact among inmates that gives them a sense of hope as they feel connected to the rest of the world especially when personal/face to face visitation takes place.

Visitation through videos and phone calls are ideal for connecting family members and friends to the inmates at the comfort of the visitation centers. This reduces the time and distances to be covered if personal visitation was to occur. In addition, it provides an opportunity for multitasking whereby someone can engage in “visiting” the inmate as pass-by while still accomplishing other activities of the day. This improves the frequency of visitation compared to physically visiting the prison as the distance may be long and time limitation. Furthermore, it eliminates the aspect of people feeling emotional when they physically see loved one or friend in jail but still enables them to communicate (Mann, 2017). Also, exposure to actual prison conditions is avoidable through video and phone communication strategies since the visitors do not experience psychological problems after visiting the inmates in persons especially for the faint hearted and emotional people.

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It is beneficial for the sake of maintaining communication between inmates during pre-conviction stages as they can interact with their lawyers and human right groups. Under normal circumstances, inmates who are denied the right to express their opinions and explain the cases to lawyers may end up losing the case and become convicted unfairly. However, this situation improves through provision of the chance for discussing with lawyers during the pre-conviction stage where more details are explained by the suspect which can help in providing justice during the case hearing. Owing to this, the judgment made can be more favorable for the defendant compared to the scenario where visitation was not made at all for example through reduction of imprisonment duration.

Drawbacks of Inmate Visitation

On the other hand, there are challenges associated with inmate visitation which involve monitoring of the process which eliminates the aspect of privacy. Normally, there are prison staff involved in making arrangement for the visitations and escorting the inmates to the visiting room. While this can be viewed as advantageous for the sake of ensuring security, it undermines the necessary privacy between the inmate and the visitor. As a result, they may not have freedom to communicate in depth as they would have wished. In addition, the aspect of having limited duration of visitation time is a disadvantageous for the inmate and the visitor. Considering an example of North Carolina State where visitation does not exceed two hours, it leaves the inmate and visitor with incomplete duration of interaction. This leads to a sense of dissatisfaction among both sides where more time would have provided sufficient chance for reunion and bonding.

Among the main intentions of visitation include facilitating a recovery mechanism to the inmate and elimination of recidivism. However, this approach has been associated with not providing the intended impacts towards recidivism prevention. A study on assessment of a cohort of released prisoners indicated that visitation had little to moderate impact on recidivism reduction among the former prisoners (Mears, Cochran, Siennick, & Bales, 2012). A study was conducted to examine the effects of visitation on the relationship between disciplinary conduct of inmates in Florida State correction facilities and prison visits by spouses, parents, relatives and friends. The results indicated that prison infraction/misconduct was observed to decline with anticipation of visiting but it was short-lived and overall good conduct decreased after visitation to average levels (Siennick, Mears, & Bales, 2013)

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The visit may affect visitors especially leaving them with psychological problems regarding the status of their loved ones in prison. This affects close family members and friends for example spouses and young children. Considering the implications involved in imprisonment, it can mentally haunt children, young adults, spouses and parents who visit inmates particularly serving long or life sentences. This can be traumatizing for emotionally weak people who find it hard to overcome the situation (Clark, 2001). Similarly, even some inmates are affected after the visitor departs which may create a feeling of self-hatred.

Regional Policies Variations on Prison Visitation

There are policies governing the visitation of inmates. In the eastern region with an example of New York, the policies require inmates to send forms to visitors which are filled legibly and approved by officials. The visitor is then verified by the staff and allowed into the institution. However for under visitors under the age of sixteen, identification is not required. The duration of visit varies depending on the category of inmate where pre-trail inmates are allowed one hour visit per week while cadre inmates have two days of visit per week during the weekend. The number of visitors per inmate is limited to three adults and three children in accordance to holding capacity of the visiting room. The use of pets is only allowed for visitors with disabilities to have dogs into the institutions and owner must prove the dog is trained for the purpose. Prison staff conducts search for visitors and their personal belongings like bags to restrict prohibited objects (Federal Bureau of Prisons–Metropolitan Correctional Center, 2008). Visitors are not allowed to bring food or beverages to inmates but may buy snacks or soft drinks within the center provided they are utilized within the visiting room. The western regional visitation schedule requires visitors to call prisons and book for visits. Days of visit are Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Like stated earlier, verification of visitor details and search for personal belongings is done and approval given subject to meeting the requirements. The duration of visit lasts for one hour (West Regional Jail, 2018).

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From the above evaluation, the beneficial aspects of prison visitation exceed the drawbacks. Consequently, it is therefore recommended that:

  1. Prison visitations should continue to be encouraged across different correction centers.
  2. The method of visitation (personal, phone or video call) should be optional between the visitor and inmate without the prison emphasizing on a specific approach.
  3. The duration of visit should be allowed to extend for about two hours to give visitors and inmates enough time for interacting.

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  1. Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2018). Local jail inmates and jail facilities.
  2. Clark, T.A. (2001). The relationship between inmate visitation and behavior: Implications for African American families. Journal of African American Men, 6(1), 43–58.
  3. Federal Bureau of Prisons. (2018). Inmate age statistics.
  4. Federal Bureau of Prisons. (2008). Institution supplement: New York Metropolitan Correctional   Center visiting procedures (pp. 1–17).
  5. Mann, M. (2017). Understanding the pros and cons of video visitation systems in corrections.
  6. Mears, D.P., Cochran, J.C., Siennick, S.E.,  & Bales, W.D. (2011). Prison visitation and recidivism. Justice Quarterly, 29(6), 888–918.
  7. Rabuy, B., & Kopf, D. (2015). Separation by bars and miles: Visitation in state prisons. Prison Policy Initiative.
  8. Siennick, S.E., Mears, D.P., & Bales, W.D. (2013). Here and gone: Anticipation and separation effects of prison visits on inmate infractions. Journal of Research in Crime and      Delinquency, 50(3), 417–444.
  9. Western Regional Jail. (2018). Western regional jail visitation schedule. West Virginia Regional Jail & Correctional Facility Authority.
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