In-person visitation is an essential part of the rehabilitative journey for millions of incarcerated individuals. Not only does it allow them to connect directly and intimately with their loved ones, but it has significant impacts on the likelihood of success post-release. Research has shown that in-person visitation significantly reduces recidivism, with some studies citing a 25% reduction in the likelihood of re-offense. So why are so many correctional agencies shifting to eliminate in-person visitation in favor of video visitation?
The Challenges of In-Person Visitation
In order to better understand this trend, it helps to have context on the numerous logistical challenges associated with in-person visitation. Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed that more than half of prisoners with children live more than 100 miles from their home, and 10% live more than 500 miles away. Restrictive visitation hours at facilities also limit the ability for those in work or school to visit during open hours. These distances and schedules practically make remote visitation options a necessity for the majority of families impacted by incarceration.
In addition to the difficulties faced by friends and family, correctional agencies face a unique set of challenges when coordinating in-person visits. Security and the smuggling of contraband are chief concerns when permitting outside visitors into facilities. Managing visitation schedules and transporting incarcerated individuals between cells and rooms can also be a significant operational burden for facility staff.
These difficulties make the total replacement of in-person visitation with video visitation an attractive option to many correctional agencies. Profit incentives and deceitful business practices from some of the companies providing these services only adds to the issue. One of the largest prison phone companies went so far as to explicitly require in-person visitation be banned when video visitation was implemented. Since 2016, 74% of jails have now banned in-person visitation after the introduction of video visitation.
No Replacement for Human Connection
“We can't physically separate our citizens who are returning to society with the personal bonds that connect them to it.”
Despite the difficulties associated with providing in-person visitation, the benefits often far outweigh the negatives. Prison Policy Initiative has outlined a number of ways in which video visiting is unable to match the experience of personal contact.
- Remote and onsite video visitation is less intimate than through-the-glass visits, which families already find less preferable to contact visits.
- Many communications providers that prioritize profit over people charge unnecessarily high rates for video visitation. These costs and fees fall on the families of incarcerated individuals, who are often some of the poorest families in the country.
- Many individuals lack proper access to a computer, webcam, or sufficient internet in order to properly communicate through digital video.
- Visitation over video can make it challenging for lawyers and other non-family advocates to build trust with incarcerated people in order to assist with personal and legal affairs.
Video visitation provides a valuable tool to help address some of the very real challenges associated with in-person visitation. Whenever possible, it should be made available as another option for families to stay in touch with their loved ones. But it should not be used as a complete replacement for in-person visits.
The importance of in-person communication and its effects on improving re-entry success are well-documented. They are also supported by numerous correctional organizations and advocacy groups. The American Correctional Association official policy book states that correctional agencies should “use emerging technologies as supplements to existing in-person visitation.” The American Bar Association Criminal Justice Standards also clearly outline that “correctional officials should develop and promote other forms of communication between prisoners and their families, provided that such options are not a replacement for opportunities for in person contact.”
Where Do We Go From Here?
Today many of the legal regulations surrounding the protection of in-person visitation lie at the state and county levels. Texas and California have passed legislation requiring that in-person visitation be maintained in jails, but no national framework exists to apply these principles on a national level. Ultimately, in most states, the decision lies with the local authorities or the correctional agencies themselves.
Correctional communication providers delivering video visitation services must help encourage jails and prisons to treat their services as a supplement to in-person visits, not a replacement. As correctional providers, it is our responsibility to prioritize the well-being of those we serve above profit generation and help create a system that better facilitates rehabilitation and positive communication.
At Edovo, we are focused on finding ways to help correctional agencies more safely and securely provide visitation services. We always advocate for the preservation of in-person visitation and urge our agency partners to do the same. Technology and communication services are powerful tools to help keep families connected, but ultimately there is no substitute for the power of genuine human interaction.