Prison Visitation Linked to Reduction in Recidivism, Study Shows

Inmates who received prison visitation were less likely to re-offend after release when compared to offenders who did not receive visits, according to a meta-analysis study by researchers at Sam Houston State University.

“Prison visitation is associated with modest reductions in post-release offending, which is moderated by gender, visitation types, time at risk, and the type of recidivism measured,” said Meghan M. Mitchell, a Ph.D. student in the College of Criminal Justice and lead author of the study. “In light of these findings, policy implications are put forth to make visitation more accessible to all inmates.”

Prison visitation was related to a 26 percent reduction in recidivism rates among offenders who were visited in prison, with the greatest relationship seen among inmates granted furloughs or conjugal visits. Only a few states offer this option, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Nebraska, New York, South Dakota, and Washington.

The study found that prison visitations were linked to reductions in re-incarceration and new convictions, but were not significantly related to new arrests, which may be the result of parole conditions that are challenging to meet or a labelling effect that targets former offenders for crimes. The study also indicated that any effect from prison visitation may decrease over time with a non-significant effect on recidivism five years after release.

The research was based on studies that included more than 76,000 inmates who had visits in prisons. As of 2014, there were 2.2 million people incarcerated in correctional institutions and an overwhelming majority are released after their incarceration. Half of all inmates return to institutions within three years and less than half of all inmates receive visitors while incarcerated.

Because of the relationship between visitation and reductions in subsequent offending, the study suggests several ways that correctional institutions can better facilitate the practice. These include:

  • Posting visiting hours on the building or the institution’s web site
  • Reducing or eliminating visitation fees
  • Improving amenities
  • Developing a more child-friendly environment
  • Constructing facilities for extended stays by family members
  • Providing free or inexpensive transportation options for families through collaborative efforts among community, state governments, prisons, and non-profit organizations
  • Placing inmates in facilities closer to family and friends

“The implementation of these policy implications will take a great deal of time, organization, and resources from the prison officials, especially when dealing with offenders with a history of violence or abuse against family members,” said Mitchell. “Despite these challenges, the benefits of prison visitations appear to outweigh the costs.”

“The effect of prison visitation on reentry success: A meta-analysis,” by Mitchell, Kallee Spooner, Di Jia and Dr. Yang Zhang at Sam Houston State University, is available from the
Journal of Criminal Justice

Member of The Texas State University System