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December 6, 2011

New corrections report from Minnesota shows positive impact of positive visits

This local article from Minnesota, which is headlined "Visits paid to prison pay off: Inmates who get visitors are less likely to commit crimes again, a Corrections study finds," reports on some positive findings from a recent state study. Here are the basics:

It turns out [inmate] visits, though they seem mundane, play a significant role in improving public safety and reducing corrections costs.  Inmates who receive regular visits from family, friends and volunteers are much less likely to be convicted of a felony once they leave prison because they develop strong support networks while imprisoned, according to a study just completed by the state Department of Corrections (DOC).

Although it may seem obvious, the finding could trigger changes across Minnesota's state prison system.  It will likely prompt the Corrections Department to extend visiting hours, address decrepit conditions in visiting areas and reach out for volunteers to spend time with prisoners who've been abandoned by family.

"The ability to make a successful transition from prison to rebuilding a normal life can be measured by visits and shows there are significant savings in public safety costs," said Grant Duwe, DOC's director of research.  "Just going back to prison for a technical violation of probation violation costs $9,000 a pop, so you can see how it becomes expensive."

Using a sample of 16,400 prisoners released from Minnesota's correctional system between 2003 and 2007, Duwe evaluated the relationship between prisoner visits and recidivism. He found that inmates who get regular visits are 13 percent less likely to wind up back in prison because of new felonies and 25 percent less likely to commit probation violations that would put them back behind bars.

"We're trying to get past the point in corrections where we just used our intuition about what works," said David Crist, assistant Corrections commissioner.  "In today's state government, that is not enough to make changes a reality."

At the same time, the study exposed a glaring issue Corrections officials realize they must address: Roughly four in 10 inmates in the sample never received a visitor.  Such offenders face huge obstacles to creating a new life after prison because they haven't developed a network of people who can help with jobs, housing and transportation. "Because many offenders have burned bridges with loved ones by the time they reach prison, facilitating visits from friends and family may not be an option,''  Duwe observed.

Among other key findings:

• It matters who shows up.  Visits from siblings, in-laws, fathers and clergy were most likely to cut recidivism.  Visits by mentors and clergy cut the risk of reconviction by more than 25 percent.

• Conversely, visits by ex-spouses actually increased the chance that a prisoner would re-offend.  That may reflect conflict in severed relationships, which can create instability in an ex-offender's life.

• Frequency matters.  Inmates visited more often were less likely to wind up back in prison after their release.  The average number of visits per inmate was 36, nearly two visits each month.  And visits closer to an offender's release date did more to reduce criminal behavior later.

December 6, 2011 at 11:00 AM | Permalink


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Perhaps the most important variable in preventing recidivism is what can generally be called "stability" and "support." If so, I'm not confident that our modern day probation and supervised release systems are helpful on that front. In fact, they probably often do more harm than good, especially when onerous conditions have been imposed and/or when vindictive or hard-line probation officers are involved.

Posted by: Don | Dec 6, 2011 11:22:21 AM

There is some obvious truth to the findings, especially the benefit of *clergy and mentor support*, because they tend to hold the convict more accountable than do others.

The inmates from our institution who behave worst both incarcerated and following release--though these two phenomena don't necessarily concur 'lock-step'--are overwhelmingly 'lone-wolf' types who lack significant family ties.

We try to emphasize making one's child proud, living for more than both the moment and oneself, and treating others respectfully.

Families give a guy something (some loved ones) for which to live properly.

Posted by: Adamakis | Dec 6, 2011 2:25:29 PM

So....why isn't there a stipend for families to help the cost of visiting? At the federal level the BOP places inmates up to 500 miles away and sometimes farther than that. It would be nice to have help with gas money, motel rooms and meals for visits when just the drive to get there is an entire day.

Posted by: JS | Dec 6, 2011 7:55:05 PM

Admaakis implies the frequency of visits is an effect not a remedy of lesser pathology resulting in recidivism. That is correct.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 7, 2011 6:56:50 AM

Could we make an exception to the First Amendment and make it a crime to write a newspaper article about a study finding a correlation and jumping to the conclusion of causation?

No, probably not.

Darn it.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Dec 7, 2011 4:48:49 PM

Really, Kent? You're against prison visits? No one is calling for shorter sentences or releasing offenders or any "soft on crime" stuff. There's a study in MN which finds a correlation between visits and lack of recidivism. That's it. You can say who cares, I guess, but I find the hostility strange.

A study says people in prison may (emphasize may) benefit by being visited by loved ones. That's it. Why is this a partisan issue for you?

Posted by: Anonge | Dec 8, 2011 8:52:16 AM

"Really, Kent? You're against prison visits?"

Not one single word in my comment says or implies that I am against prison visits. My comment is entirely on the unsupported causal inference.

If you want to reply to my comment, Anonge, how about replying to what I actually wrote and not to some wild and unsupported extrapolation from what I wrote?

"A study says people in prison may (emphasize may) benefit by being visited by loved ones. That's it."

No, that is not what the article says. It says, "It turns out [inmate] visits, though they seem mundane, play a significant role in improving public safety and reducing corrections costs." There is no "may" there. The article asserts it as a proven fact. If the claim had been appropriately qualified, I wouldn't have had a problem with it.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Dec 8, 2011 12:07:32 PM

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