Pennsylvania DOC designs a handbook to assist families and friends of inmates.

Author:Sturges, Judith E.
Position:Department of Corrections

In the past two decades, incarceration rates have risen in correctional facilities. As of June 2001, approximately 1,965,000 inmates were housed in prisons with approximately 37,000 inmates in Pennsylvania facilities (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2002). Consequently, more of the public, such as inmates' families and friends, are affected as a result of incarceration.

Family members and friends are placed in a stressful situation as they attempt to maintain bonds with inmates and adjust to the changes in their relationships. Most of the public is not familiar with the specific rules and regulations that govern contact with inmates.

To date, addressing the needs of the public who come in contact with correctional institutions has been overlooked. More specifically, little has been done to provide the families and friends of inmates with a means to understand correctional institutions' policies guiding their contact with incarcerated offenders.

As a result, academicians and practitioners in Pennsylvania collaborated to provide the public with an informational handbook to educate them about rules and regulations governing their contact with Pennsylvania state correctional facilities.

Literature Review

Numerous scholars report that family members' contact with correctional institutions causes them discomfort. Rules and regulations governing their contact with inmates are burdensome and restrictive (Casey-Acevedo and Bakken, 2002). Correctional staff are indifferent to visitors' needs (Kotarba, 1979), resulting in visitors and correctional officers developing an us-against-them mentality (Sturges, 1999). Family members feel humiliated and degraded, and experience tension, discomfort and stigmatization because of their association with prison inmates (Bakker, Morris and Janus 1978; Cobean and Power, 1978; Morris 1965; Davies, 1980; Girshick, 1996; Fishman, 1990; Brodsky, 1975). Van Ness and Strong (2002) state that family members and friends of inmates are secondary victims because of their relationship with offenders.

Even though visitors are negatively affected, contact with family members is beneficial to inmates. Scholars report that an inmate's contact with family members helps him or her cope psychologically (Gibbs, 1991; Toch, 1992) by providing the inmate with a sense of security and self-worth (Girshick, 1996) as well as sustaining morale (Toch, 1992; Hairston, 1988).

Researchers also report that inmates who have contact with family members have lower recidivism rates after release (Cobean and Power, 1978; Bakker et al., 1978; Holt and Miller, 1972; Burstein, 1977; Hairston, 1988; Howser and McDonald, 1982; LeClair, 1978; Kiser, 1991; Girshick, 1996) and are more apt to function in a desirable social role upon release (Hairston, 1988).

Even though scholars have identified problems that inmates' families and friends encounter, very little has been written about assisting them when they interact with correctional institutions. Casey-Acevedo and Bakken (2002) state that correctional staff should recognize that family members have needs, be supportive of visitation and direct the public to useful resources. Sturges (2002) states that educating inmates' visitors about correctional procedures and providing them with helpful resources may alleviate some of the burden correctional officers experience while working with the public.

Further, very little has been written about creating a working relationship between academicians and practitioners in the corrections field. A few scholars suggest that correctional administrators and faculty need to establish lines of communication and recognize their partnership potential (Flynt, 1999; Morin, 2001). Mays (1999) states that corrections personnel and academicians have "much to learn from each other and much to offer each other."

Creating the Handbook

The academicians from Pennsylvania State University-Fayette and Slippery Rock University contacted the director of Inmate Services in the fall of 2001 at the Pennsylvania DOC to inquire whether there was an interest in a handbook designed to inform inmates' families and friends about procedures governing their interaction with correctional institutions. Essentially, the academicians wanted to provide an...

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