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Prison Visits Make Inmates Less Likely To Commit Crimes After Release, Study Finds
By RJNews, March 2012 Vol. 13 No. 1
Published: 04/30/2012

Visit jail Just a single visit from a family member or a friend can make a big difference in whether or not a prisoner ends up back behind bars after their release, a new study finds.

The study, by researchers with the Minnesota Department of Corrections, determined that prisoners who received at least one personal visit at any time during their incarceration were 13 percent less likely to commit another felony and 25 percent less likely to end up back in prison on a technical parole violation. Data showed that the more visits prisoners received, the lower their chance of re-offending after release.

The study tracked 16,000 prisoners over nearly five years, making it the largest such study of its kind, according to Grant Duwe, director of research for the Minnesota Department of Corrections, who led the research team. The study will be published in the Criminal Justice Policy Review, a peer-reviewed academic journal.

Duwe said prison officials in Minnesota were already weighing how to apply its results to the state's corrections policies. "I think the completion of this study gives us some tangible evidence to show that if we can increase visitation, we can give offenders more of the social support they need to succeed," he said.

Several previous, smaller-scale studies have found an even larger correlation between prison visitation and inmates' likelihood of re-offending. But most state prison systems continue to see visitation as a privilege, not a tool to help inmates establish law-abiding lives after their release, Duwe said.

"I think visitation has been largely viewed as a concession that's given to inmates," he said. "I don't know if there has been a great deal of thought given to the public safety benefits that visitation might have."

As the economic slowdown has bitten into state budgets, some prison systems have already altered visitation policies in order to save money. In Minnesota, a temporary government shutdown earlier this year led to the suspension of all prisoner visitation as a cost-saving measure.

In July, Arizona lawmakers imposed a one-time $25 fee on all adult visitors to inmates. Funds from the fee are to be directed to maintenance of state prisons. Middle Ground Prison Reform, an advocacy group, filed suit against the state, calling the fee an "unconstitutional tax."

"If this policy results in delaying or diminishing or eliminating prison visitation for anyone, the state is shooting themselves in the foot in terms of rehabilitation," Donna Hamm, a retired municipal court judge and executive director of the group, said in September, according to the Associated Press. "That's a very short-sighted view of public safety policy." John Kavanagh, the Republican legislator who wrote the provision, scoffed at the idea that the fee would discourage prison visitors, however.

"If a one-time charge of $25 is enough to dissuade you from visiting your loved one, then I'm wondering how much of a loved one he or she is," he told the Arizona Daily Star.

Duwe declined to comment specifically on the Arizona policy. But he said the results of the Minnesota study clearly suggested that states have a fiscal incentive to encourage visitation, not discourage it.

A single parole violation that returns a released inmate to prison, even briefly, costs upwards of $9,000. A prisoner who commits a new felony and spends additional years behind bars will cost far more.

"The benefits we could see from a reduction in recidivism could vastly outweigh the cost of increasing visitation," he said.

A few states, such as Idaho and Virginia, are already experimenting with a novel and cost-effective way to boost interaction between inmates and their loved ones: internet-based video visitation systems, which have proven popular with inmates and administrators.

Yet while a growing body of research shows that overall, visits by family, friends, religious figures and community mentors are overwhelmingly positive for inmates, data from the Minnesota study shows that one type of visitor should probably be avoided. Visits by an ex-wife or ex-husband, it found, can actually lead inmates to commit more crime after their release.

"Visits from ex-spouses could do more harm than good," Duwe said. "That was kind of an interesting finding."

Reprinted with permission RJNews, March 2012 Vol. 13 No. 1


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  2. Canklefish on 04/07/2020:

    Trust me, I know just how much a visit can mean to somebody on the inside. When I was "on vacation" in various institutions in the lovely state of Missouri back in 2002-2005 it was nice to have loved ones stop by for a visit. Made all the difference. stump grinding san diego

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  7. Jack102 on 12/28/2018:

    Really interesting study, thank you for sharing. I think that prisoners serving from minor offences should be able to have access to more visitations. House clearances in Manchester

  8. katriddick on 07/03/2012:

    My companion, is currently incarcerated in Ft.Dix federal facility in N.J. His home address is Portsmouth, Va. Recently he recieved his first visit in years. Because of my health and the long distance from this part of Virginia to Ft. Dix. The commute was costly with the many tolls, and because of the long distance it was painful to travel so far in a cramped car. With so many facilities located closer I do not understand why he is assigned so far away. The visit was really speical to him as will as all of us who were able to go. Why is it necessary for him to be so far away and what can I do to help get him transferred closer?

  9. 13 on 05/10/2012:

    There is a bit of misinformation in this article: "In July, Arizona lawmakers imposed a one-time $25 fee on all adult visitors to inmates. Funds from the fee are to be directed to maintenance of state prisons. " In actual fact, the fees are NOT being directed to prison maintenance, which is why the suit was filed. However, any visitor over the age of 18 must pay the fee, including children of inmates who reach that age while a parent is incarcerated. The article quotes John Kavanagh, the Republican legislator who wrote the provision as saying, "If a one-time charge of $25 is enough to dissuade you from visiting your loved one, then I'm wondering how much of a loved one he or she is." That is a rather disingenuous comment: if the inmate has a spouse, parents,siblings and teenaged children, you are no longer talking about $25 but rather a burden that could reach into the hundreds of dollars, making prisons the only public building (unlike the capitol, courts or libraries, for example)to require a prepaid fee for admission. In effect, the family of the inmate is now being "punished" for the misdeeds of their inmate. Putting a dollar value on love, when a family may be in dire financial straits, is simply un-Christian and cruel.

  10. knowledgeacquire on 05/03/2012:

    I believe that this was a good article since it seems that visitation seems to be in the cutting block. As a cj professional I believe that visitation, as the author stated, is an intricate part of rehabilitation. It has been noted that most offend due to the feeling of isolation but visitation aids the client into feeling part of society.

  11. jamestown0509 on 04/30/2012:

    What wasn't mentioned was the introduction of contraband through visits. Probably 1/2 to 2/3 thirds of the contraband in jails and prisons comes from visitors.

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