Impact of Holiday Communication on Incarcerated Populations
The holiday season is a time to share how much we care for one another. It’s also a time when many families join together to celebrate and share in long standing traditions. Some families stay at home while others travel across oceans to visit distant family members. But no matter the distance, the holidays are meant to be a time to promote companionship and strengthen communities.
However, for many in the incarcerated population, the holiday season can be detrimental to mental health, bringing about feelings of loneliness, depression, and instability. Because the incarcerated population remains behind bars, the holiday season is a constant reminder of what they are missing. If consistent communication with their loved ones isn't available, many individuals will instead isolate themselves, sitting with feelings of loneliness, depression and regret.
The average family of an incarcerated individuals lives more than 100 miles away from their loved one. This can dramatically limit the number of in-person visits an individual may receive from their family support system during the holiday season. Long commutes and busy holiday schedules make frequent visits nearly impossible. Heavy demand for telephone calls and communication can tie up phone lines in jails and prisons, leaving many individuals with limited quality phone time with their families, or in some cases no phone time at all. There are even instances where individuals feel left out while their cellmate receives countless Christmas cards and telephone calls - meanwhile they may not even have family to lean on or hear from.
Even though the holiday season is a time when the probability of depression and loneliness may rise amongst the incarcerated population, there are options available to change this outcome for the better.
Why it’s Important to Communicate During the Holidays
Through communication, we share our thoughts and experiences, uncovering new beliefs and building lasting relationships and friendships. Communication allows us to grow, both individually and collaboratively; it's vital for everyone's personal development, whether incarcerated or not.
For an incarcerated individual, hearing the voice of someone they love over the telephone, seeing a loved one in person, or even receiving packaged gifts can bring continuous joy during the most crucial time of their life. Because the holidays can bring about feelings of depression, isolation, and an elevated risk for mental health issues, it’s important for families and correctional staff to watch out for signs of emotional distress and maintain consistent and positive communication with the incarcerated.
According to a study conducted by BlueCross BlueShield, of the 41 million people surveyed, depression increased by 33% from 2013 to 2016. This continuous rise in the rate of depression not only affects the entire population, but heavily impacts the mental health of those in jails and prisons. Frequent interactions and communication can release some of the feelings of loneliness or longing that are often felt in the absence of family and friends. For the incarcerated, these relationships become the foundation of their personal growth and can turn into a positive rehabilitative experience for them once they are released.
How You Can Change the Lives of the Incarcerated
For friends and family who have incarcerated loved ones, a simple telephone call, handwritten letter, voicemail, or in-person visit can go a long way on impacting on that individual’s life. Communication services like video visitation can be utilized to bring the incarcerated individual into the warmth and celebration of their family’s home during the holiday season. This shared experience can help alleviate any feelings of loneliness or depression.
Other services like SMS or e-mail messaging can allow incarcerated individuals to communicate with their friends and family in real time, providing the unique opportunity to stay in constant communication outside of scheduled telephone or video visitation sessions. Photo sharing can allow individuals to witness the joy and happiness of opening gifts and seeing decorations throughout their family’s home, even while behind bars.
These are just a few of the communication options available in jails and prisons, and taking the time to understand the different options available to you and communicate with your loved one, even if it’s just for a few minutes every day, can improve their mental health during the holiday season. It’s important for the incarcerated population to know that they have the support of their friends and family, as this support often motivates their rehabilitation and aids in their integration back into the local community.
Edovo believes that communication should not only be flexible enough to fit naturally into people’s lives, but it should also be affordable enough to not be a significant financial burden. At Edovo, we are committed to providing communication services to the incarcerated and their loved one’s at the lowest cost possible. We look to eliminate unnecessary fees and work to reduce rates wherever possible. Education and healthy communication are both proven to help decrease recidivism. Correctional facilities should work to ensure both are readily available to incarcerated populations and their loved ones, while working with service providers to ensure education is free and communication rates are as low as possible.
For those who work in the correctional environment, promoting positivity and going the extra mile to engage with incarcerated individuals can help improve overall mental well-being and encourage positive behavior from the facility population. Allowing participation in holiday programs like religious musical events or holiday plays, providing sustainability/recreational classes, and providing access to mobile tablets where education and entertainment are readily available at no cost are just a few examples of how more engagement and opportunity in the corrections environment can make a difference in the mental stability of the incarcerated population.
For those who are not fortunate enough to have the support of friends and family, their cellmates, corrections staff and guards can also play a major role in their rehabilitation during the holiday season. Something as simple as a “Hello” or “Good Morning/Afternoon” can remind a person that they are recognized and cared for, even behind concrete walls.
On Behalf of Everyone at Edovo
We all have a part to play in ensuring the successful rehabilitation and re-integration of the incarcerated population, but ensuring we stay in touch with loved ones and provide personal support through consistent communication is an important place to start. On behalf of everyone here at Edovo and Legacy, we would all like to wish you and your families a safe and joyous holiday season and a Happy New Year!