The changing nature of correctional visitation: can video visitation provide the same benefits as in-person visits?

Author:Martin, Eric
Position:NIJ Update
 
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Video-visitation technology has the promise to expand inmates' access to and frequency of visits with family and friends during the incarceration period, and research has shown such visits to be beneficial in several respects. Although many states and counties are implementing video-visitation technology at their facilities, there is little evidence of this technology's effectiveness in replicating an in-person visit. To address this research deficit, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has funded the Vera Institute of Justice to study the potential of this technology in replicating a conventional, in-facility visit; its impact on the facility, inmates, and their families; and the implementation issues and cost of deploying this technology. (1) This article will discuss evidence-based findings on correctional visitations regarding the benefits, the common barriers, how video visitation may overcome some of those barriers, and the goals of the Vera study.

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Benefits of Visitation

Custodial Behavior and Recidivism

Research by Joshua Cochran (2) has shown that inmates who received consistent visits throughout their incarcerations had fewer instances of misconduct when compared to inmates who received no visits or only had visits early in their incarcerations. Cochran also found that when an inmate received regular visits, the probability of that inmate never having a violation increased by around 8 percent. These findings indicate that visits can benefit both the inmate and the correctional staff by producing a lowered rate of violations for the inmate, which could lead to early parole, thus saving on correctional costs while creating a less disruptive environment for correctional staff.

Visits have been shown to also reduce recidivism at an estimated reduction of around 3.5 percent per visit. (3) As inmates are released from prison, family contacts tend to provide the greatest source of support for the inmate, (4) and as indicated by Cochran, a visit during the incarceration period can be used to keep those relationships strong and reduce recidivism.

Strengthening Familial Bonds

Frequent visits benefit the inmates' families and friends as well. Children whose parents have been incarcerated often exhibit emotional and mental problems, including school disciplinary problems. (5) Visitation is one of the few options caregivers have to try to lessen the impact of parental incarceration. Melinda Tasca's research found that...

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