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Researchers: Family Contact Vital for People in Jail or Prison


Monday, December 27, 2021   

As holiday celebrations continue, groups that study issues in prisons say families with a loved one who's incarcerated should make attempts to connect with them. They say even with barriers in states like Iowa, the visit has lasting impact.

The Prison Policy Initiative says 50 years of research has found that people held in state prisons who receive in-person visits are less likely to be reincarcerated after their release.

The Initiative's Communications Strategist Wanda Bertram said in recent years, prison and jail systems have added a variety of barriers making it tougher to connect in person, by phone or by mail. But she said that shouldn't deter families.

"We want higher rates of success when people leave prison and they're re-entering society," said Bertram. "You know, we want people who are mentally well."

Separately, Iowa researchers have found a connection between visitation and a person's tendency to obey rules inside a correctional facility.

Bertram noted that Iowa has been among the states with higher costs for a 15 minute call from jail. But the Initiative secured a victory this year when the Iowa Utilities Board agreed to cap the rates set by jail phone companies.

As for better outcomes, Bertram said it goes beyond reducing recidivism - the benefits can be seen in a variety of ways.

"People who are frequently in touch with family have better mental health outcomes," said Bertram. "It actually impacts their physical health, it impacts their improvement in school and educational programs."

As the nation sees another COVID surge, Bertram said she worries administrators around the country will go to greater lengths to block visits.

Iowa has yet to go back to restricting in-person visits at state facilities after resuming them over the summer. But Bertram said there's concern about the potential for a patchwork of restrictions at county-level jails.

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