Jail Visitation: An Assessment of Alternative Modalities

Date01 April 2021
Published date01 April 2021
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-17GECHHZgTHZRa/input 921221CJPXXX10.1177/0887403420921221Criminal Justice Policy ReviewSitren et al.
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2021, Vol. 32(3) 284 –299
Jail Visitation: An Assessment
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
of Alternative Modalities
DOI: 10.1177/0887403420921221
Alicia H. Sitren1, Hayden P. Smith2 ,
Tia Stevens Andersen2, and Megan R. Bookstaver1
The existing research on inmate visitation disproportionately focuses on the social
ties between mother and child within a traditional face-to-face engagement at state
prisons. This overreliance on a certain type of visit has limited empirical assessments
of the visitation process. The current study features a purposive sample of 47
(n = 47) visitors to a remote visitation center linked to a county jail. Qualitative
responses indicate that respondents held positive perceptions of staff and the facility
itself. Visiting sessions were complex, with visitors displaying an assortment of
individual needs, previous visitation experiences, and goals for the visit. Participants
did experience a loss of privacy and they employed strategies to retain a personal
sense of privacy. Technology was highly valued by visitors, with frustrations being
common when technology failed. However, the use of a remote visitation coupled
with technology served as a positive and effective modality for jail visitation.
visitation policies, jail, technology, remote visitation, visitation experiences
Inmate visitation is a long-established component of the correctional system. Early
examples include the late 17th-century institutions such as the Walnut Street Jail
located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Here, visits were permitted every 3 months per
inmate and only for a 15-min period. Visits occurred through a grilled barrier and only
1University of North Florida, Jacksonville, USA
2University of South Carolina, Columbia, USA
Corresponding Author:
Hayden P. Smith, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of South Carolina,
1305 Greene Street, Columbia, SC 29208, USA.
Email: Smithhp@mailbox.sc.edu

Sitren et al.
permitted for inmates who had displayed exemplary behavior while incarcerated. No
physical contact of any kind was allowed. After this time period, all contact between
inmates and their family members was banned in favor of a religion philosophy that
valued silent penance. This approach aimed to have inmates silently reflect on their
crimes to seek repentance before returning to their communities. Visitation was viewed
as a hindrance to this process.
By the 1820s, inmates were afforded limited visits from clergy members for spiri-
tual guidance. Still, correctional staff did not fully recognize the importance of visita-
tion as a mechanism that could promote maintenance of familial bonds and the
integration of inmates back into the community until the mid- to late-1900s. In 1973,
visitation was formulized through the National Advisory Commission on Criminal
Justice Standards and Goals. The Commission informed correctional administrators
that they should promote the visitation of family members to incarcerated loved ones
for the maintenance of social bonds (Sturges & Al-Khattar, 2009; Tartaro & Levy,
2017a). In recent years, technological advancements have allowed the creation of
video (i.e., cyber visitation) and remote visitation as a means of promoting safe and
efficient forms of visitation. These developments have altered the way in which visita-
tion to jail and prison occurs. Yet, these recent changes are rarely studied empirically.
Visitation: Definitions, Estimates, and Barriers
The existing literature indicates that visitation policies and procedures display consid-
erable variability, which in turn leads to a lack of any single definition of prison and
jail visitation. According to Cochran et al. (2017), visitation is simply an institutional
process that allows inmates to have contact with their family, friends, family members,
clergy members, lawyers, and others. While visitation is now a ubiquitous component
of the correctional system, only a subset of inmates actually receive visits. Mears et al.
(2012) found that only 24% of prison inmates in the state of Florida received one or
more visit while incarcerated, whereas Duwe and Clark (2013) showed that 39% of
prison inmates in Minnesota did not receive a single visit while incarcerated. Using
data from the Florida Department of Corrections, Cochran and colleagues (2015)
determined that 74% of inmates in Florida state prisons had not received a single visit
while incarcerated. These estimates are all based on the prison setting, and to date
there is no estimate of visitation rates for jails. This is surprising when one considers
that jails have 10.9 million admissions per year (Minton & Zeng, 2016).
There are several barriers that inhibit the visitation of inmates. Family members or
friends may have severed ties with an inmate as a result of the inmates’ crimes or due
to protective orders (Cochran & Mears, 2013). According to Christian (2005), “staying
connected to a prisoner is a time, resource, and labor-intensive process, which may
create barriers to prisoners’ maintenance of family ties” (p. 32). The most cited barri-
ers to in-person visitation have been lack of transportation and lack of economic capi-
tal (Christian, 2005; Mignon & Ransford, 2012; Pleggenkuhle et al., 2018; Tewksbury
& DeMichele, 2005). Still, visits to county jails typically involve less travel time than
visits to state prisons or federal prisons and thus include additional challenges

Criminal Justice Policy Review 32(3)
for visitors (Arditti, 2003; Christian, 2005; Tewksbury & DeMichele, 2005). Other
barriers to visitation include having to take time off from work, background checks,
invasive search procedures, dress codes, limited visiting hours, long waiting times,
lack of privacy and physical contact, unpleasant experiences with prison or jail staff,
and lack of child-friendly waiting and visiting areas (Arditti, 2003; Arditti et al., 2003;
Casey-Acevedo & Bakken, 2002; Christian, 2005; Clark & Duwe, 2017; Comfort,
2003; Hutton, 2016; Sturges, 2002; Sturges & Al-Khattar, 2009; Tartaro & Levy,
2017a; Tasca, 2016; Turanovic & Tasca, 2017). In addition, how visitors are informed
regarding visitation policies and how well visitors understand institutional practices
can influence whether an inmate will receive continued visitations (Sturges &
Al-Khattar, 2009).
Traditional visitation features “contact” visits, whereby visitors and inmates share
the same space, but usually with limited and/or supervised physical contact. Such
visits provide inmates and visitors with the most intimacy but can be challenging for
corrections personnel and invasive for visitors. Visitors are often subjected to pat-
downs and other invasive search procedures since corrections personnel must prevent
contraband from entering the correctional facilities. Due to the security and surveil-
lance procedures endured during visitation, visitors have reported feeling like “crimi-
nals” themselves (Hutton, 2016; Sturges & Hardesty, 2005; Tartaro & Levy, 2017b).
Noncontact Plexiglas visits are more common forms of visitation, and here inmates
and visitors are separated by Plexiglas and speak through telephones on both sides of
the physical barrier. Generally, in-person visitation conducted via Plexiglas are easier
for corrections personnel due to corrections staff only having to handle the movement
of inmates. As such, the opportunity for contraband making its way to inmates through
visitors is decreased or eliminated.
Plexiglass visits may offer some utility as visitors get to see their incarcerated fam-
ily members and friends face-to-face with minimal invasive entry procedures.
However, such visits can still be challenging for visitors due to background checks,
scheduling visitation appointments, and finding transportation to correctional facilities
(Clark & Duwe, 2017; Tartaro & Levy, 2017a, 2017b). These visits also lack the
opportunity for physical touch that traditional visits can provide. Recent technological
advancements have allowed the creation of video or cyber visitation and remote visita-
tion. Video visitation was first utilized in the Brevard County Jail in Florida in 1995
and has expanded as a form of visitation for many correctional facilities. It is estimated
that video visitation is now utilized in 43 states and the District of Columbia at more
than 500 facilities (McLeod & Bonsu, 2018).
Visitation in the Jail Context
To date, a limited amount of research has been conducted on the experiences of indi-
viduals who visit inmates in jails or on those inmates who are visited in jails (Arditti,
2003; Arditti et al., 2003; Pierce et al., 2018; Poehlmann-Tynan et al., 2015; Sturges,
2002; Sturges & Al-Khattar, 2009; Tartaro & Levy, 2017a, 2017b). Significantly more
research has focused on the effects of visitation and the visitation experiences of

Sitren et al.
family members and friends in the context of state prisons (Christian, 2005; Christian
et al., 2006; Comfort, 2003; Hutton, 2016; Tasca et al., 2016; Tewksbury & DeMichele,
2005; Tewksbury et al., 2004), and the effects of visitation and the visitation experi-
ences of inmates in these state prisons (Beckmeyer & Arditti, 2014;...

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