No one needs convincing that prison is probably a lonely place, filled with hostile guards and dangerous inmates. At least from the Hollywood point of view, the only comfort for most convicts is a letter from home or the occasional visit from family or friends. Sadly, though, a new study indicates that many prisoners do not even have the solace of visitors from outside, and that the average inmate receives only two visits during their entire length of incarceration.
Prisoner Visitation's Connection to Recidivism
Consistent with previous research, a recent study published in the journal Crime and Delinquency indicates that Florida prisoners who regularly receive visitors do better during their stay behind bars and upon re-entry into the community than those who don't receive frequent visits. "Visitation helps individuals maintain social ties during imprisonment, which, in turn, can improve inmate behavior and reduce recidivism," the authors of the study wrote. "Not being visited can result in collateral consequences and inequality in punishment."
Those Who Receive Few to No Visits
Necessarily implied by the study's findings is that many prisoners receive no visitors at all. Those who are older, black, or have been incarcerated numerous time had the fewest visitors. White, Latino, younger, and newly incarcerated inmates received the most visits. Economic status and the length of a prisoner's sentence did not factor into the likelihood of visitors.
Research from The Society Pages indicates that several factors influence visitation rates, including a prisoner's distance from home, and visitors' inability to take time from work to visit their loved ones in prison.
The Drastic Fate of Federal Prisoners
In the Federal Bureau of Prisons, where the distance between prisoners and their families can be measured in the thousands of miles, not the hundreds (as in Florida), visitation rates are far lower. Some 215,000 men, women, and children are incarcerated in federal prisons across the continent. While the Federal Bureau of Prisons tells the public -- and the courts -- that it makes every effort to incarcerate prisoners within their home region of the country, the distance from home is the last consideration in classification decisions. An inmate from Texas may find himself or herself bounced from California to Virginia to upstate New York for no reason related to their own conduct. This needs to change.
The only bright light on the horizon is the work of Prison Visitation and Support (PVS) volunteers, and others like them, whose national mission is to visit those in prison, simply to provide them with the companionship that is so essential in our human experience. Sadly, though, such organizations are greatly overstretched.
Correctional Policies Must Change
Until it does, tens of thousands of men, women, and children will languish behind bars with little or no actual contact with the communities that they will return to someday. When we consider that America's prison industrial machine has removed rehabilitation, education, and vocational training from the correctional equation, the drastic state of our prisons becomes clear. Further isolating prisoners only hurts us all, because recently released prisoners who have no job, no home, and no family support are all but assured to fail. Last year, over a half a million prisoners were released from America's prisons, and 95 percent of all prisoners will go home someday. The policies and practices that only serve to discourage prisoners from maintaining community connections are likely a major factor in our nation's disastrous recidivism rates. We need to revamp such policies before it's too late.
Where to Learn More About Inmate Visitation
To learn more about the study published in Crime and Delinquency, read the Smithsonian's article The Average Prisoner Only Gets Two Visits While They Are Incarcerated.
To learn how to volunteer to visit prisoners, connect with Prisoner Visitation and Support, a terrific organization that visits prisoners across the country.