Study shows that increasing prisoner visitation reduces inmate recidivism and  benefits both communities and taxpayers

According to a recent five-year study by the Minnesota Department of Corrections, inmates that have regularly scheduled visits with family, friends, and other members of the community have a significantly reduced rate of recidivism. With so many factors influencing rates of recidivism;  the parolee’s participation in a substance abuse treatment program, ongoing family and community support, the job market, the amount and type of parole supervision and so forth, which occur mainly outside the realm of a facility’s control, an effective inmate visitation program is one method that a prison or jail has a great deal of governance over.

Efforts to reduce recidivism are dollars well spent given the enormous costs of crime and incarceration. Looking at the prison statistics for California the numbers are staggering*:

  • California’s prison population increased more than sevenfold. It is expected to reach 191,000 incarcerated individuals in the next five years.
  • The average annual cost of housing a California prisoner in 2006-7 was $43,287, which totals over  $10 billion a year.
  • State corrections now accounts for approximately ten percent of total California state spending—nearly the same amount the state spends on higher education.
  • California’s recidivism rate as measured by the “return to prison rate” is 66 percent; 27% for a new criminal conviction and 39% for a technical or administrative violation, which can result from new crimes or violations of the conditions of parole. On any given day, six out of ten admissions to California prisons are returning parolees.
  • Mass incarceration fractures families, threatens the economic infrastructure of already struggling neighborhoods, and leads to increased social stresses, especially for children.

Although statistics across the country differ, other states still have many of the same issues. Based upon the findings of the MNDOC study, reducing recidivism by encouraging and facilitating inmate visitation has benefits that are far reaching – impacting each and every taxpayer.

As pointed out in the study, nearly 40% of inmates had no visitors. For inmates who had visitors they saw a 13% reduction in felony reconvictions, and a 25% reduction in technical violations.  Running those recidivism reduction percentages against the California statistics, the savings to taxpayers in that state alone could be in the hundreds of millions per year if prisons could operate a successful inmate visitation program.

There are several issues with current face-to-face visitation practices that stand in the way of achieving those beneficial recidivism outcomes: time, distance, staffing resources, safety, the uncomfortable setting of the prison environment, and the administrative policies of the prison.

Utilizing the new technology of video visitation to provide on-premise or internet visitation can help remove the barriers that hamper the volume and effectiveness of current in-person visitation.

Renovo, a leading visitation management platform recently conducted a webinar for prison administrators detailing the findings of the MNDOC study, and explaining how a video visitation system is implemented. To learn more, view the visitation PowerPoint presentation.

* From the report Parole Violations and Revocations in California by Ryken Grattet, Ph.D. ; Joan Petersilia, Ph.D. ; Jeffrey Lin, Ph.D., 2008.