Research indicates prisoners who are visited by family and friends are less likely to return to incarceration.
Distance plays a major role in why many prisoners’ visits are infrequent and in many cases why others do not receive visits at all, according to Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) research. The study exposes how less than one-third of state prisoners are visited by loved ones during an average month.
“Distance from home is a strong predictor for whether an incarcerated person receives a visit,” said Bernadette Rabuy, the Oct. 2015 study author. “I hope this report gives policy makers more reasons to change the course of correctional history.”
When someone is imprisoned far from home it impacts their visitors in many ways, one of which is by discouraging them from visiting, it was reported.
“We found that among incarcerated people locked up less than 50 miles from home, half receive a visit in a month, but the portion receiving visits falls as the distance from home increases,” the study says.
Prison Policy Initiative said it found “the breakdown of how far people in state prisons reported being locked up (is determined by their distance) from their home communities.”
Distance % visited last month
Less than 50 miles 49.6%
50-100 miles 40.0%
101-500 miles 25.9%
501-1,000 miles 14.5%
Based on a survey covering 14,500 state prisoners done by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the initiative calculated the proportion of inmates housed at various distances from family and friends:
Less than 50 miles 15.7%
50-100 miles 20.9%
101-500 miles 53.2%
501-1,000 miles 7.9%
Over 1,000 miles 2.2%
According to a Yale Law School report, “Prison Visitation Policies: A Fifty State Study,” “Thirty jurisdictions (including California) promote or encourage visitation at the outset of their policy directives or regulations.”
However, the Yale study noted these states “are not necessarily the ones in which visitation is most liberally permitted, and indeed some have policies that severely limit visitation.”
The Yale study said 32 jurisdictions place limitations on the number of approved visitors a prisoner may have.
“In contrast, California affirmatively places no limit on the number of approved visitors,” the Yale study says. Citing prison regulations, the study said, “‘Limitations shall not be placed on the number of visitors approved to visit an inmate.’”
The initiative’s study also said distance is not the only factor that affects prisoners’ families or friends’ decision to pay them a visit. It said harassment by prison staff is a deciding issue too.
“States such as California and Massachusetts should stop their unnecessary and dehumanizing strip and dog searches of visitors,” the initiative’s study said.
The Yale study says all states provide prison visitation, and each state screens visitors and places limitations on visiting times and determines who is allowed to visit.
“All states provide a substantial level of discretion to each prison’s warden or superintendent in implementing the policy directives,” the Yale study said.
The Yale study commented, “Many inmates are incarcerated far away from friends and family; sheer distance serves as a major barrier to visitation.”
PPI’s “Correctional Control: Incarceration and Supervision by State” is the first report to aggregate data on all types of correctional control nationwide.