Incarceration has an immediate and undeniable negative impact on relationships with friends and family and prisoners need outside connections to thrive. Physical separation, intermittent communication, and prison policies operate to weaken relationships and to isolate prisoner’s overtime. A lack of a support network often results in increased behavioral issues during a given term of incarceration and increased recidivism rates after release.
For many years, prison administrators have been aware of the importance of maintaining relationships with friends and family. Studies have consistently shown that recidivism rates are reduced when connections are maintained through letter, phone calls, and visits. The Justice Policy Center at the Urban Instituted reported this statistical correlation in 2006, relying upon research data published in 1998. Yet, prison policies and process have become less conducive to strengthening connections with friend and family.
For example, the Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) limits the number of people allowed on a prison’s approved visitor’s list to twelve. Initially, the policy change specified that prisoners were allowed up to twelve people, consisting of immediate family plus two others. The public outcry was so great, however, that the IDOC changed its position, allowing up to twelve people regardless of their relationship to the prisoner. The actual policy was not rewritten though.
The IDOC further restricts prisoners’ attempts to form new connections with people. Indiana prisoners are forbidden to solicit for pen pals via websites or periodicals. If found to be in violation of this rule, Indiana prisoners are subject to disciplinary action, including the loss of good time credits. In other words, prisoners face longer sentences simply for trying to build relationships with people outside of prison.
The systematic isolation of prisoners is also accomplished through the economic exploitation of prisoners and their loved ones. Prisons offer phone calls, email messaging and video visitation, for a fee. Although these privileges are offered through contracting companies, prison systems receive kickbacks. Prisoners and their loved ones, thus, are faced with added financial burdens to maintain contact, while prison systems use the funds to offset budgetary concerns.
Recent trends, such as email messaging and video visitation, create an economic interest that threatens traditional in-person visitation and regular United States mail. Prison systems now have incentive to transition to video visitation and email messaging exclusively. Administrators will cite to “safety and security” concerns, while explaining how video visitation and email messaging not only alleviate those concerns but also is more cost-effective for the prisoners’ loved ones.
Such a transition will only serve to further isolate prisoners and break down relationships with greater efficiency. Financial burdens and emotional strains will fracture the bonds of love. Prisoners will be released without a support network, and recidivism rates will increase. Thus, the system continues to expand.
This impending reality can be avoided, however. The power of public perception is capable of effectuating change. Just as administrators yielded to the public outcry regarding. Indiana’s visitation policies, they will yield to most demonstrations of unity by people in the free world. The key to success is to mobilize prisoners’ loved ones to effectuate change.
The time to mobilize is now. Success is easier to obtain by being proactive rather than reactive. Do not wait for traditional privileges to be incrementally phased out before deciding to challenge that transition. Act now!