Younger prisoners receive more visitors than older ones. Meanwhile, white and Latino inmates get more visits from family and friends than do black inmates, a new study finds.
The issue: Part of the national debate about prison reform centers on inmate rehabilitation and recidivism – whether today’s prison programs succeed in correcting offenders’ behavior and preventing them from committing more crime. One factor that appears to influence people’s behavior while they are behind bars as well as recidivism rates is whether they receive visits from family members and others during incarceration.
Several published studies suggest prison visits help inmates maintain social ties, which, in turn, may reduce the likelihood they will commit crimes after their release. A 2016 review of studies finds that in-person visits reduce the likelihood of recidivism by 25 percent and that conjugal and furlough visits, which let inmates spend extended periods of time with family, have an even bigger impact.
A study worth reading: “Who Gets Visited in Prison? Individual- and Community-Level Disparities in Inmate Visitation Experiences,” published in Crime & Delinquency, 2017.
Study summary: Three researchers from the University of Cincinnati and Florida State University wanted to know which types of prisoners get more visits from family, friends and others. The authors collected data from the Florida Department of Corrections on felony inmates who were admitted to and released from state prisons between November 2000 and April 2002. The scholars examined inmates’ demographics as well as criminal and incarceration histories.
A total of 17,921 prisoners were included in the study, 90 percent of whom were men. The average age of prisoners was 32 years and about one-third were incarcerated for drug offenses. Half of prisoners in the study were black, 42 percent were white and 8 percent were Latino.
- Inmates received 2.13 visits, on average, during their incarceration. Prison sentences lasted an average of 23 months.
- Younger prisoners received more visits than older ones. On average, a 20-year-old had 2.6 visits while a 50-year-old had less than one.
- White prisoners received slightly more visits than Latinos. But whites and Latinos received nearly twice as many as black prisoners, who averaged about one visit.
- Women received slightly more visits than men.
- Individuals held for property and sex crimes received the least visits while those imprisoned for non-violent offenses, including drug offenses, received the most.
- Inmates who had been incarcerated more than once were less likely to be visited than those serving their first sentence.
- Journalist’s Resource has collected government reports and academic papers that look at inmate demographics and prison population trends.
- Government agencies have different rules for prison visitors. The Federal Bureau of Prisons’ policy, for example, includes a dress code and allows physical contact such as hugs and handshakes. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s policy prohibits visitors from bringing paper money and cell phones into visiting areas.
- The American Civil Liberties Union explains prisoners’ visitation rights.
- Volunteers with groups such as Prisoner Visitation & Support, which is based in Philadelphia, visit prisoners who do not ordinarily see their family members or friends.
- A 2016 study published in the Journal of Criminal Justice, “The Effect of Prison Visitation on Reentry Success: A Meta-Analysis,” finds that prison visits help reduce recidivism.
- A 2017 study in the Journal of Public Economics, “Local Labor Markets and Criminal Recidivism,” looks at the impact of higher wages on recidivism.
- A 2017 study in The Prison Journal, “Race, Incarceration, and Motherhood: Spoiled Identity Among Rural White Mothers in Prison,” explores the jail experiences of white women from rural areas and how their incarceration affects their children.