More Prison Visits = Less Recidivism

Dear Friends,

I am really excited about a significant new study of impact of visitation on recidivism. The study confirms the basic premise on which Prison Fellowship was founded: that visiting prisoners can significant improve their reintroduction to the community after their release.

Some of the significant findings of the study are:

Offenders who were visited in prison were significantly less likely to recidivate. The reductions in recidivism were:

13 percent of a felony reconviction,

25 percent for re-incarceration for a technical violation.

Any visit from a mentor reduced the risk of reconviction by 29 percent, while a visit by a clergy lowered it by 24 percent. Visits from certain family members and relatives also had an impact. The risk of reconviction was reduced by 21percent for at least on in-law visit, 10 percent for a sibling visit, and 9 percent for a visit by other relatives.

The frequency with which inmates were visited had a significant effect on recidivism.

Inmates visited more often were less likely to recidivate.

Visits closer to an offender’s release date had a greater impact on reducing recidivism.

The larger an offender’s social support system, the lower the risk for recidivism.

The total number of different individual visitors an offender had was significantly associated with less recidivism.

It is interesting to note that only one category of visitor actually correlated with increased recidivism: ex-spouses. The added stress of a failed relationship seems to be at the root of this exception to the otherwise very positive impact of visits.

The study was conducted by the Minnesota Department of Corrections among 16,420 inmates between 2003 and 2007. This is a very large sample size, and an unusually long period to track recidivism (up to five years).

One facet of this study jumped out at me as I read it-the two types of visits that had the greatest impact on reducing recidivism: clergy and mentors, which have been at heart of Prison Fellowship’s work for over 35 years. We have done this because Jesus told us to visit prisoners in Matthew 25. However, we now have research that shows our faithful volunteers are having a significant impact on the lives of the inmates and on our communities by making them safer. These findings make it clear that if states want to reduce recidivism they must look at their policies to determine whether they are conducive to visitation or if they hinder visits. This is a matter of public safety, and contradicts years of training and practice in the corrections field. I would encourage every governor to request a review of all policies relating to visits with an eye toward increasing the number of visits. Prison management often resists calls to expand visitation citing two factors: danger of contraband and increased costs. Both of these issues can be dealt with if management makes expanding visits a priority in order to reduce recidivism. This study makes clear that by maintaining policies that discourage visits, the prison system is increasing the likelihood that offenders will commit a new offense and return to prison.

Here are a few ways in which visitation could be encouraged:

Place Inmates in Institutions as Close to Where their Family Lives as Possible within their Security Level.

Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics show that more than half of prisoners with children live more than 100 miles from where they lived before prison, and 10 percent lived more than 500 miles away. Most families cannot afford to make such long trips to see their loved ones.

While most states claim that they place inmates as close to their families as possible within their security class, this is a policy on paper only. In reality, wherever an open bed exists is usually where the inmate gets assigned. Proximity to family isn’t a factor. This study shows that by discouraging visitation, these long-distance placements are harmful to public safety.

Institutional convenience should never trump public safety.

In the long term, states should build prisons closer to the neighborhoods that most prisoners come from. Placing prisons in rural areas may help economic development, but it is destructive to families and undermines public safety.

In His service,

Pat Nolan, President, Justice Fellowship

You can read more on this at: Justice Fellowship

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