Extending the Ties that Bind: Considering the Implementation of Extended Family Visits in Prisons

Thomas Dutcher University of New Haven

The following brief presents valuable information for states considering implementing extended familial visitations to their current visitation policies within prisons. Specifically this report would be of interest to individuals within a given states’ Department of Corrections. The brief first outlines what is known about extended stay family visitations (also known as conjugal visitations) in relation to recidivism prevention, prison violence reduction, and maintenance of social ties. Thereafter, policies of states with current programs are reviewed. The brief recommends that states adopt a visitation policy, which allows for a broad definition of who qualifies as a visitor capable of applying for an extended visitation, and recommends considering the use of a monitoring and evaluation framework paired with the implementation of a program due to the limited current state of evidence-based literature on the topic.

Statement of Issue 

Roughly 45% of the United States population has had an incarcerated primary family member, and every state has some form of in-person visitation policy, but the vast majority of incarcerated persons will not receive visits from family (Cochran & Mears, 2013; Enns et al., 2019; Mitchell et al., 2016). The extant quantitative literature on the effects of familial visitation on the incarcerated person finds that visitations increase overall mood, increase reports of familial ties, decrease rule violation behavior, reduce the likelihood of recidivism. Yet it is important to note that within these studies, it is rare for more than 40% of those incarcerated individuals to report receiving any visits, let alone visits from family members (De Claire & Dixon, 2017; Duwe & Clark, 2013; Mears et al., 2012; Mitchell et al., 2016).

While visitation and maintaining familial ties are seen as theoretically relevant for reducing recidivism by reducing strain, strengthening familial ties, and combatting labeling associated with prisonization, there are significant barriers to visitation (Cochran & Mears, 2013). These barriers include distance to be traveled (often hundreds of miles), cost of travel, poor conditions in the general visiting area, length of visit, inconsistency in hours of allowable visit, length of time spent waiting at the facility, and the overarching cost of the experience (Christian, 2005; Cochran & Mears, 2013; Mowen & Visher, 2016).

With this in mind, this policy brief seeks to explore one way for addressing low in-person familial visitation rates. In the section that follows, a background on extended familial or “conjugal” visits will be provided. As of 2021, only four states have official extended familial visitation programs: Connecticut (Connecticut Department of Correction Directive 10.6), California (see Boudin et al., 2013), New York (DOC Dir 4500), and Washington (DOC 590.100). Extended familial visits, while not a panacea to low prison visitation, address many of the barriers to visitation shown in the existing literature.

 

Background

Prison visitation has received a great deal of attention from researchers in the past 20 years. This research tends to show that visitation has a positive impact on the lives of those incarcerated, as well as the individuals visiting (Duwe & Clark, 2013; Mears et al., 2012; Mitchell et al., 2016; Tasca et al., 2016). Rather than detailing the key findings of the literature, the focus of this brief is placed on two separate meta-analyses of prison visitation research, along with a few routinely cited studies. This overarching literature will be used to introduce the limited research that has been conducted on extended familial (conjugal) visitations. While most of this research focuses on the effects of visitation on recidivism, it should be noted that an entirely separate body of research focuses on the effects of visitation for families on the outside (see: Adams, 2018; Christian, 2005; Mowen & Visher, 2016;; Siennick et al., 2013; Turanovic et al., 2012)

One meta-analysis conducted by De Claire & Dixon (2017) examined 10 studies that specifically looked at the effects of familial and romantic partner visitation related to the overall mood and disposition of the incarcerated person, instances of violations in prison, and recidivism. The authors found support for their hypothesis that visits from family improve mood, decrease in-prison violations, and decrease recidivism risk (De Claire & Dixon, 2017). However, differences exist related to the gender of the incarcerated individual. For example, visitation only reduced recidivism at a statistically significant level for men, not women (Claire & Dixon, 2017). The researchers noted that there needs to be further studies that examine the nuances of types of visitation, including extended familial visitation, and their effect on recidivism and in prison violations.

Mitchell et al. (2016), in another meta-analysis of the effects of prison visitation specific to recidivism outcomes, examined studies of 16 prison visitation programs that used either an experimental or quasi-experimental design. This meta-analysis found that prison visitation reduces recidivism by 26%, but that gender (larger effect for men than women), type of visit, and length of incarceration mediate the effect (Mitchell et al., 2016). Despite this mediation, the effect of visitation remained moderately significant. Unique to this meta-analysis was the inclusion of extended familial (conjugal) visits as a visitation type.  While it should be noted that far fewer studies in the meta-analysis were used to test the effect of these visits, the results of this study show that extended familial visits had the strongest effect on recidivism of any type of visitation, reducing recidivism by 36% (Mitchell et al., 2016).

Research specifically examining the effects of extended family (conjugal) visitation is hard to locate in the extant literature. The evaluative studies which do exist have focused almost exclusively on the extended visit program in the state of Mississippi, which ended in 2014 (McElreath et al., 2016). Research examining extended visitations generally includes discussions of now defunct programs (such as the aforementioned Mississippi program), in large part because the extant literature does not extend beyond 2014 (see Boudin et al., 2013; Carlson & Cevera, 1991; D’Alessio et al., 2013; Einat & Rabinovitz, 2013; Hensley et al., 2000, 2002). This prior research largely paints a positive picture of this form of visitation.

Hensley et al. (2000), surveying currently incarcerated persons in two facilities in Mississippi (126 men and 130 women), sought to examine if those that received extended familial (conjugal) visits had different views on the program than those who were eligible but did not participate. It is important to note that this study oversampled those receiving extended family visits, as 53% of their sample received this form of visit, whereas only 7% of the prison population received extended family visits (Hensley et al., 2000). Using logistic regression, this study found that there were no statistically significant differences in the opinions of extended visitations between those who did and did not receive them (Hensley et al., 2000). Both those who did and did not receive extended visits were in favor of the practice (Hensley et al., 2000).

Hensely et al. (2002) sought to examine the effects of extended family visits on the threat of, as well as actual acts of violent assault and sexual violence. In this study, extended family (conjugal) visits were coded as a dichotomous yes/no variable.  Using multiple regression, the researchers found that while extended family (conjugal) visits decreased threats and actual acts of violence/sexual violence for incarcerated women in the sample, this difference was not statistically significant. Additionally, this study found that extended family (conjugal) visits had no overall effect on violence scales employed (measuring threats and acts) (Hensley et al., 2002).

However, these null findings are in contrast to the majority of the extant literature, which finds positive effects of extended familial (conjugal) visitation (D’Alessio et al., 2013; De Claire & Dixon, 2017; Einat & Rabinovitz, 2013; Mears et al., 2012; Mitchell et al., 2016). D’Alessio et al. (2013), for example, in examining the rates of a reported inmate to inmate sexual assaults in all 50 states over three years, found that conjugal visitation was a statistically significant factor that reduced instances of sexual assault within men’s facilities. In other words, states with specific policies that allowed for extended familial (conjugal) visitation had lower reported rates of sexual abuse in their prisons. However, it must be mentioned again that since the time of this study, both Mississippi and New Mexico have ended their visitation programs.

Qualitative research has delved deeper into the perceptions of extended visits through the perspective of incarcerated persons. In studying perceptions of visitation experiences for incarcerated men, Pierce (2015) found that extended family visits were incredibly important to the 32 men in their sample for maintaining social bonds with their loved ones. Extended visits were mentioned as being preferred for their relative privacy and reportedly produced more meaningful visitation experiences for these men. Pierce (2015) found that continuing extended family visitations, improving the conditions of the trailers, and increasing the number of trailers to facilitate more frequent extended visits per eligible party were among the primary recommendations made by men for facilitating stronger familial ties. Additionally, Einat & Rabinovitz, (2013) examined the importance of “conjugal” visits for eight incarcerated women in Israel. Similarly, these women reflected on the importance of one-on-one visits to maintain deep connections with their romantic partners, which went beyond simply engaging in sex (Einat & Rabinovitz, 2013). The privacy and intimacy of non-traditional visits led individuals in both studies to assert extended visits were more beneficial to their familial relationships than a standard visit (Einat & Rabinovitz, 2013; Pierce, 2015).

 

Pre-existing policies

While all states have various regulations regarding the length of visitation, type of visit allowed (contact or no contact), and who may visit, all 50 states have a formal policy regulating prison visitation (Boudin et al., 2013). While most states have special policies allowing for extended visits, these extensions are seldom for longer than a few hours during the day. They also vary across states in terms of length of the extension and what type of visitor can request an extended visit (Boudin et al., 2013). Existing policies on these variations in day-time-hour-based extended visits also vary by state and are not possible to recount in detail. Of particular interest is the overnight extended stay visit (often referred to as a familial visit or conjugal visit). As of 2014, when New Mexico and Mississippi canceled their programs, 46 states have no formal policy that allows incarcerated individuals to engage in a private overnight stay with any familial visitor (Boudin et al., 2013). The policies of Connecticut, New York, and Washington will be outlined below, with a focus on the unique or differing dimensions of each policy.

 

Extended Options: Connecticut

In the state of Connecticut, incarcerated persons are eligible for a 24-hour extended family visit from their child (under 18) and their spouse, the child's guardian, or the parent of the incarcerated person (Connecticut Department of Correction Directive 10.6). Unique to this policy is the mandate that the incarcerated person must be visited by two persons, one of whom must be their child. Incarcerated persons are eligible for a visit every 90-days. A set of eligibility guidelines exists for both the visitors and the incarcerated person. These eligibility guidelines for the incarcerated person mandate that they must not be on a restrictive status, must not have high-class disciplinary offenses, must have been incarcerated for at least 90 days, and must be in good health (Connecticut Department of Correction Directive 10.6). Extended family visits occur on Saturdays and Wednesdays, beginning at 8:30 in the morning and ending at 8:30 the next day (Connecticut Department of Correction Directive 10.6). These visits cost ten dollars and are conducted in private trailers that are “similar to a two-bedroom apartment” (Connecticut Department of Correction Directive 10.6, p. 7). Each facility in the state is capable of setting its own specific eligibility guidelines for both visitors and incarcerated individuals, in addition to the general rules set forth by the Connecticut Department of Corrections

Unlike the Connecticut state policy, which requires a child present in order for the extended stay visit to occur, the policies in New York, Washington, and California do not have this provision. Similar among all three policies are the extensive documents required by the visitor, to establish their identity and connection to the incarcerated person they are seeking to visit, as well as a lengthy application process that includes providing medical, legal, and background records. In all three states, a committee makes the final decision to approve or reject applications for these extended visits.

 

Extended Options: Washington

The “Extended Stay Family Policy” of Washington used the terminology “Extended Family Visits” rather than the now stigmatized term of conjugal visit (DOC 590.100). Individuals able to apply for these types of visits include immediate family, parents, step-parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts or uncles, and legally married or state-certified domestic partners (DOC 590.100). Similar to Connecticut, these visits are private and occur in mobile home units that must have at least one bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom and a living room. Under the Washington state policy, the incarcerated person must be serving at least five years, have been incarcerated for at least one year, cannot be in a maximum security facility, and cannot be a sex offender. The visitor cannot be their victim in the case of domestic violence, and the inmate must have a clean infraction record (DOC 590.100). For visitors, the individual cannot be on parole, probation, or awaiting trial, cannot have testified against the individual, must be on their visitor list, and must have visited in person or through video visitations at least 6 times in the last year (DOC 590.100). This last qualification is especially unique to this policy. The visits themselves can last from 20-48 hours and cost $15 per night, a charge payable by either the visitor or the incarcerated person. An incarcerated person is eligible for one extended visit per month.

 

Extended Options: New York

The New York Family Reunification Program operates similarly to the aforementioned Washington State policy. There are strict eligibility requirements, which include but are not limited to: the incarcerated person must be a minimum of 6 months into their sentence, must be clear of “excessive” disciplinary infractions and have no “major or severe” infractions, must be eligible for regular visits, cannot be a sex offender, and must be involved in at least one program related to their risk-needs assessment (DOC Dir 4500). Visitor eligibility also requires that the individual be a frequent visitor; however, unlike the six visits required in Washington, three visits within the last year are required in New York.

For a visitor to be eligible, they must be able to show they are a legally married or common-law spouse, a child over the age of 18, a child under the age of 18 accompanied by a parent or the spouse of the incarcerated person, a minor child without an adult but with written permission approved under special review, a parent or step-parent of the incarcerated person, or a grandparent (DOC Dir 4500). The review process in the state of New York takes roughly five weeks by a full cycle review of the state DOC; after initial approval, subsequent applications can be handled by the specific facility. Twenty-two out of the fifty-two correctional facilities in the state offer this program (DOC Dir 4500). Similar to Washington State, extended visits can be canceled at any time, and individuals can lose their eligibility within the program, subject to the discretion of the facility.

 

Policy Options

Based on prior literature, the following policy options exist for states interested in implementing a form of an extended family (conjugal) visitation program. These policy options will focus on the general type of visit. Guidelines on eligibility are largely similar across the existing policy options, and as such, a given state should determine eligibility in line with their current visitation procedures. Noting that there is state by state variation in visitation procedures (Boudin et al., 2013), it is not feasible in this brief to cover all aspects of an extended family visitation policy. Instead, the options provided are based on the shared characteristics of existing policies. In other words, in the options that follow (particularly options one and two), the state will be left to determine what specific qualifying and disqualifying protocols should be in place for incarcerated persons to be eligible for the program.

The three policy options provided focus solely on the eligibility who can visit. These options are as follows:

Option 1 – Child-Caregiver-Incarcerated Parent Extended Visit

This option suggests adopting and implementing a family visitation program inspired by the state of Connecticut, requiring a child to be present during such visitations. The naming of this option as Child-Caregiver-Incarcerated Parent Extended Visit highlights the strict requirement of this approach. Only incarcerated parents of minor children may participate in this program, and only if the caregiver of that child is also willing to participate in that visit. It is recommended in this option to follow the overarching policy guidelines of the state of Connecticut related to the contents of visitation trailers and the length of these visits. As stated previously, the state may determine additional qualifying or disqualifying metrics.  

Advantages:

  • Allows for the facilitation of social ties between children and their incarcerated parent, which has been shown to reduce the criminogenic impact of growing up with an incarcerated parent.
  • Allows for the strengthening and maintaining of social bonds and ties between the child, incarcerated parent, and caregiver.
  • By focusing the policy and public narrative around the child being present, it may be possible to prevent negative public backlash related to the label of “conjugal” visits.

Disadvantages:

  • The scope of this program is limited to incarcerated individuals who have a child and a relationship with that child’s caregiver that would facilitate a three-way visitation.
  • Initial administrative, operations, and constructions costs related to setting up the infrastructure to facilitate these visits.
  • Times for such visits would be limited due to school schedules and would likely cause a backlog of visitations.
  • It may be hard for the child and parent to require the pre-requisite number of prior regular visits in order to be eligible for extended visits.

 

Option 2 – General Extended Family Visit

Adopt and implement a family visitation program inspired by states that do not have the child plus caregiver requirement. Or in other words, those states whose policies use a broader definition of who can visit. For the purposes of clarity and simplicity, this can be called the General Extended Family Visit. Within such a policy, parents, siblings, children, legal or common-law spouses, grandparents, and additional family members would be able to apply for the general extended family visit, if they had made a minimum of three regular visits (in person or video) in the prior year. It is recommended that states base their specific policy to be in line with their already existing visitation policies, while incorporating the key structures of The New York Family Reunification Program. As stated previously, the state may determine additional qualifying or disqualifying metrics.  

Advantages

  • A wider variety of individuals who are key social support structures in the lives of incarcerated persons would have access to the visitation program.
  • Extended family visitation has been shown to decrease recidivism after re-entry, decrease instances of violence in prison between incarcerated persons, and produce stronger reports of familial ties on release.
  • Longer, higher-quality interpersonal visits may facilitate a higher frequency of visits by helping to combat certain barriers to visitation.
  • Allows for policy evaluation research to examine the effects of different types of visitors on things such as stress and strain experienced by incarcerated persons, recidivism, inter-inmate violence, and visitation satisfaction. This is critical to understanding what types of visits are beneficial and which ones do more harm than good.
  • Different types of visitors are shown to produce different levels of social and emotional support based on factors like the gender of the incarcerated person (Adams, 2018; Mowen & Visher, 2016; Turanovic & Tasca, 2019).

Disadvantages

  • Initial administrative, operations, and constructions costs related to setting up the infrastructure to facilitate these visits.
  • Achieving pre-requite prior visitations may be difficult for individuals seeking to participate in the program.
  • It may appear as a “soft on criminals” approach that led to the cancelation of extended family (conjugal) visitation programs in states such as Mississippi and New Mexico.

 

Option 3 – Maintain course

A third option is to maintain current visitation policies and not provide extended family visitations. This “as is” approach centers around the idea that the given Department of Corrections is doing enough to facilitate familial ties by providing its regular, standard visitation practices. This applies to states with no set-up for extended visits and those having only informal extended visit procedures (Boudin et al., 2013).

Advantages

  • No additional cost incurred (only applies to states that do not still have facilities from previous programs).
  • No changes in policy, staffing, or procedures needed.
  • No risk of public backlash of being “soft on criminals.”

Disadvantages

  • Does not address the needs of incarcerated persons or their families relative to visitation.
  • Does not allow for continued research on how various types of visitation may have greater impacts on recidivism.
  • Ignores that there is research that shows that extended family visits reduce recidivism more than standard visits.
  • Does not address the burdens experienced by families of incarcerated persons.

 

Recommendations

With careful consideration of existing familial visitation policies and standard visitation policies, as well as the recognition that existing policies in either domain are not standardized but rather tailored to the individual state by their department of corrections (Boudin et al., 2013), it is the recommendation of this paper that, in light of research showing the positive effects of extended family visits on recidivism and family ties, states currently without such policies should adopt a General Extended Family Visit policy (option two in the previous section). As mentioned above, the primary advantages of this approach include its broader scope of allowable visitors (recognizing heterogeneity in visitation effects), its capacity for reducing barriers to visitation, and the expected impacts on recidivism and quality of life.

Reducing barriers to incarceration is critical to sustaining the positive effects of visitation experienced by incarcerated persons, as research has shown that disruptions such as canceled visitation or infrequent visitation diminish the statistical significance of visitation in reducing misconduct while incarcerated (Siennick et al., 2013). While a full review of the significant barriers faced in attempting to visit an incarcerated family member is beyond the scope of this report, these difficulties largely center around time and distance spent traveling, cost of traveling, already fraying relationships, and negative outlooks on the visitation environment itself (Christian, 2005; Mitchell et al., 2016; Mowen & Visher, 2016). By providing private trailers with amenities far beyond that of a regular visitation space, an overnight visit, and privacy to promote a sense of near normalcy alongside intimacy, General Extended Family Visits directly address several of these barriers.

A key component leading to the recommendation for states without extended familial visits to adopt a program in its likeness is that it does not require the presence of a child for such visits to occur and allows for the broadest range of potential visitors, with extended family being able to apply for special consideration. This is important, because both qualitative and quantitative research reveals the effects of visitations are about more than just the simple act of visiting. There is no standard “best visitor,” and factors such as the gender of the incarcerated person, the quality of the previous relationship, and parenthood status all present unique dimensions to determining who makes an individual level best visitor (Mitchell et al., 2016; Mowen & Visher, 2016; Tasca et al., 2016; Turanovic & Tasca, 2019). Thus, by having a more open approach to individuals who can apply for extended visitation, states avoid a “one-size fits all” approach to policymaking.    

While prior quantitative research is limited, this research has found support for the ability of extended family visitation to have a greater effect on reducing recidivism and inter-inmate violence than standard visitations (Boudin et al., 2013; D’Alessio et al., 2013; De Claire & Dixon, 2017; Mitchell et al., 2016). In addition to reducing recidivism (a major goal of the correctional system and criminal justice system as a whole), extended visitations help to lessen the burden of the collateral consequences of incarceration, especially the strains and stressors related to the deterioration of familial networks, experienced by both those that are incarcerated and their families on the outside (Mowen & Visher, 2016; Tasca et al., 2016; Turanovic et al., 2012). In continuing with trends supporting restorative justice and social justice approaches to the criminal justice system, alleviating strains experienced by families of the incarcerated presents another strong reason for adopting this form of General Extended Family Policy. The importance of extended family visits for the mental and social wellbeing of incarcerated persons and their own views on their familial ties has been shown in research examining both incarcerated men and women (Einat & Rabinovitz, 2013; Pierce, 2015).

It is important to note, as we strive for evidence-based practices and policies, that more research is needed on the specific effects of extended family visits. The extant research has become outdated, existing in a time and space of a vastly different socio-political and prison policy climate (i.e., the get-tough era). The meta-analyses presented above focus primarily on visitation as a whole. While extended visitation was included in their analyses, replication and further study are needed to determine the degree to which extended visits may provide more of a benefit than regular visitation programs. Thus, states implementing the above recommendation should do so with the explicit purpose of constructing a monitoring and evaluation framework in order to conduct further research on the effects of extended family visitation on recidivism, prison misconduct, and familial ties.

Annotated Bibliography

Adams, B. L. (2018). Paternal incarceration and the family: Fifteen years in review. Sociology Compass, 12(3), e12567. https://doi.org/10.1111/soc4.12567

This review of previous literature is important for understanding the effects of incarceration on families. The researchers provide a comprehensive review of the current state of literature related to paternal incarceration and provide insights into the importance of visitation for familial ties. Those without a background on the impacts of incarceration on families can gain a snapshot of modern research on the topic from this paper.

Boudin, C., Stutz, T., & Littman, A. (2013). Prison visitation policies: A fifty-state survey. Yale Law and Policy Review, 32(1), 149-189.

This is the only known comprehensive review of visitation policies in every state. This paper highlights the variation in policies by state and notes the differences between formal stated policies and informal practices. The article features a review of various extended stay programs. However, it should be noted that several states listed as providing extended stay programs, no longer provide such services (New Mexico and Mississippi).

Carlson, B. E., & Cevera, N. (1991). Inmates and their Families: Conjugal Visits, Family Contact, and Family Functioning. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 18(3), 318–331. https://doi.org/10.1177/0093854891018003005

This study examined differences in the perceptions of family functioning and familial bonds between incarcerated men and their wives participating in the "Family Reunification Program", an extended visit policy in New York State. The results of this study, based on surveys by 63 incarcerated persons and 39 wives, found positive effects for the extended visitation program. Both incarcerated men and their partners reported higher levels of closeness than those not participating in the Family Reunification program.

Christian, J. (2005). Riding the Bus: Barriers to Prison Visitation and Family Management Strategies. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 21(1), 31–48. https://doi.org/10.1177/1043986204271618

This qualitative research study examines the lived experience of individuals riding a 24 hour bus to visit their incarcerated loved ones. The study finds significant barriers to incarceration related not only to time and distance but also treatment by correctional staff and the visitation environment. This study provides qualitative depth to help understand the relatively low rate of individuals receiving visits while incarcerated in the United States.

Cochran, J. C., & Mears, D. P. (2013). Social isolation and inmate behavior: A conceptual framework for theorizing prison visitation and guiding and assessing research. Journal of Criminal Justice, 41(4), 252–261. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2013.05.001

This article provides a comprehensive review on scholarship related to both positive and negative effects of prison visitation. The article provides an expert analysis on the current state of the literature as well as the heterogeneous impacts of various types of prison visitation.

Connecticut Department of Corrections. (2020). Inmate Visits (10.6; p. 14). Connecticut Department of Corrections.

This document provides the Connecticut Department of Corrections policies related to visitations at carceral facilities in the state. It presents the overall policies of the state, including but not limited to the states’ extended visit policy. It is of critical importance to understanding existing policies in place

D’Alessio, S. J., Flexon, J., & Stolzenberg, L. (2013). The Effect of Conjugal Visitation on Sexual Violence in Prison. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 38(1), 13–26. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-012-9155-5

This article examines the impact of conjugal visits on sexual violence in prisons by examining longitudinal data from all fifty states. In this study the dependent variable is the yearly number of reported sexual offenses between incarcerated persons and the independent variable of interest is a dummy variable based on if a state has a conjugal visitation program. This study found that states with conjugal visitation programs have significantly lower levels of sexual offenses when controlling for other factors. This article makes up a key portion of the limited extant literature on conjugal visitation.

De Claire, K., & Dixon, L. (2017). The Effects of Prison Visits from Family Members on Prisoners’ Well-Being, Prison Rule Breaking, and Recidivism: A Review of Research since 1991. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 18(2), 185–199. https://doi.org/10.1177/1524838015603209

This article provides a meta-analysis of prison visitation research, focused specifically on the effects of that research for incarcerated persons. The study finds that visitation generally has a positive impact on inmate wellbeing, reduces recidivism, and reduces inter-inmate violence. Additionally, this research finds heterogeneity in the effects of visitation based on the type of visit and the gender of the inmate being visited. This study is important for those seeking a background on the effects of prison visitation for incarcerated persons.

Duwe, G., & Clark, V. (2013). Blessed Be the Social Tie That Binds: The Effects of Prison Visitation on Offender Recidivism. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 24(3), 271–296. https://doi.org/10.1177/0887403411429724

This article examines the impact of visitation, visitation frequency, and type of visitor on recidivism risk. The study found that examining visitation frequency shows there are nuanced effects beyond visitation yes/no of visitation on recidivism. Additionally, certain visitors were found to decrease recidivism risk while others, such as former spouses, increased risk of recidivism post-release. It is a well-researched and methodologically sound article providing a nuanced take on the effects of visitation.

Einat, T., & Rabinovitz, S. (2013). A Warm Touch in a Cold Cell: Inmates’ Views on Conjugal Visits in a Maximum-Security Women’s Prison in Israel. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 57(12), 1522–1545. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306624X12461475

This article examines the perceptions of conjugal visitations within a women's prison in Isreal. This qualitative study reveals key themes related to the visitation experience that highlights its importance for maintaining familial ties and social bonds for participating women. It is an important study for those examining the significance of providing extended visits beyond measurable metrics such as recidivism.

Enns, P. K., Yi, Y., Comfort, M., Goldman, A. W., Lee, H., Muller, C., Wakefield, S., Wang, E. A., & Wildeman, C. (2019). What Percentage of Americans Have Ever Had a Family Member Incarcerated? Evidence from the Family History of Incarceration Survey (FamHIS). Socius, 5, 2378023119829332. https://doi.org/10.1177/2378023119829332

This article uses a new tool the Family History of Incarcerated Survey, to answer their research question of how many individuals living in America have ever had an incarcerated family member. The authors found that nearly half of all Americans have experienced the incarceration of an immediate member of their family. This research is important for beginning to understand the significance of having a variety of visitation programs within a given department of corrections.

Hensley, C., Koscheski, M., & Tewksbury, R. (2002). Does Participation in Conjugal Visitations Reduce Prison Violence in Mississippi? An Exploratory Study. Criminal Justice Review, 27(1), 52–65. https://doi.org/10.1177/073401680202700104

This study examines the impact of conjugal visitation on inter-inmate violence in prisons within the state of Mississippi. The researchers surveyed 256 men and women within two prisons in the state. The researchers found no statistically significant difference in threats or acts of violence between those participating in the program and those that were not. This study is important to recognize because it does not find positive effects of conjugal visitation.

Hensley, C., Rutland, S., & Gray-Ray, P. (2000). Inmate attitudes toward the conjugal visitation program in Mississippi prisons: An exploratory study. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 25(1), 137–145.

This study examines perceptions of conjugal visitation within two Mississippi prisons. In this study incarcerated persons, both participants and non-participants were surveyed. The key finding of this study is that both groups rated the program as being a both important and necessary form of visitation regardless of their own eligibility for the program.

McElreath, D. H., Doss, D. A., Jensen, C. J., Wigginton, M. P., Mallory, S., Lyons, T., Williamson, L., & Jones, D. W. (2016). The End of the Mississippi Experiment with Conjugal Visitation. The Prison Journal, 96(5), 752–764. https://doi.org/10.1177/0032885516662644

This article discusses the factors that led to the cancelation of the Mississippi conjugal visitation program. The authors cover previous literature on conjugal visitation as well as research specific to the state of Mississippi. It is an important piece to read to understand common objections to extended familial visitation programs.

Mears, D. P., Cochran, J. C., Siennick, S. E., & Bales, W. D. (201). Prison Visitation and Recidivism. Justice Quarterly, 29(6), 888–918.

This article uses propensity score matching in a rigorous analysis of the effects of prison visitation on recidivism. The authors find that different types of visits as well as the frequency of visits are important moderating variables on the effect of visitation measured as yes/no on recidivism. Overall the researchers find that visitation has a positive effect on recidivism. This study is an important piece of the quantitative literature on the effects of visitation on recidivism due to its rigorous design.

Mitchell, M. M., Spooner, K., Jia, D., & Zhang, Y. (2016). The effect of prison visitation on reentry success: A meta-analysis. Journal of Criminal Justice, 47, 74–83. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2016.07.006

This meta-analysis examines the effects of prison visitation on recidivism. The authors of this meta-analysis examined studies that looked at nuanced factors that may effects the any relationship between visitation and recidivism including; who is visiting, what type of visit is being conducted, and the gender and race of the individual being visited. The results of this study point to extended visits having a greater impact on recidivism than standard visits. This article is important for those looking to gain immediate insights into trends in the research on visitation.

Mowen, T. J., & Visher, C. A. (2016). Changing the Ties that Bind. Criminology & Public Policy, 15(2), 503–528. https://doi.org/10.1111/1745-9133.12207

This study specifically examines factors that lead to changes in familial ties when a member of that family is incarcerated. Central among their findings to this policy brief is the reported importance of visitation in sustaining familial ties. This study is important for understanding the dynamics within families with an incarcerated immediate member.

New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. (2016). Family Reunion Program (DIR #4500; p. 14). New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

This document provides the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision policies related to the extended stay visitation program at carceral facilities in the state. It presents the overall policies of the state regarding this program known specifically as the Family Reunification Program. It is of critical importance to understanding existing policies in place

Pierce, M. B. (2015). Male Inmate Perceptions of the Visitation Experience: Suggestions on How Prisons Can Promote Inmate–Family Relationships. The Prison Journal, 95(3), 370–396. https://doi.org/10.1177/0032885515587471

This study, through a qualitative design, examines heterogeneity in visitation by asking incarcerated men about their visitation experiences. The authors specifically included those that had experienced extended stay familial visits and the importance of these visits are accounted for in detail. This article presents important findings via recommendations these men have for improving visitation experiences.

Siennick, S. E., Mears, D.P & Bales, W.D., (2013) Here and Gone: Anticipation and Separation Effects of Prison Visits on Inmate Infractions. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 50(3), 417–444. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022427812449470

This study examines the impact of irregular visitation schedules and canceled visitations on the behavior of incarcerated persons. The results of this study show that gaps in visitation may increase inmate infractions and violence. The authors find that maintaining and facilitating regular visits reduces infractions and violence. This study is important for examining the impacts of visitation backups and canceled visitations.

Tasca, M., Mulvey, P., & Rodriguez, N. (2016). Families coming together in prison: An examination of visitation encounters. Punishment & Society, 18(4), 459–478. https://doi.org/10.1177/1462474516642856

This qualitative study takes a unique approach to studying prison visitation by examining what is said during these visits in order to assess factors related to perceptions of a "successful" visit. The authors present several key themes related to the types of conversations most frequently had based on the relationship between the visitor and visiting party. It is important for understanding the social dynamics of visitations.

Turanovic, J. J., Rodriguez, N., & Pratt, T. C. (2012). The collateral consequences of incarceration revisited: A qualitative analysis of the effects of caregivers of children of incarcerated parents. Criminology, 50(4), 913–959. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-9125.2012.00283.x

This study presents a large (100 caregiver) qualitative analysis on the experiences of family members of the incarcerated. The results of this study highlight the collateral consequences of incarceration experienced by families, including barriers to incarceration. The study highlights first-hand accounts on how visitation can be a strong asset in lessening the collateral consequences of incarceration. This study is important for those seeking more information on the social benefits of visitation beyond that of recidivism prevention.

Turanovic, J. J., & Tasca, M. (2019). Inmates’ Experiences with Prison Visitation. Justice Quarterly, 36(2), 287–322. https://doi.org/10.1080/07418825.2017.1385826

This extensive study of experiences of prison visitation examined emotional responses to visits by the incarcerated. The results of this study, derived from 228 incarcerated persons, show that a whole range of both positive and negative emotions associated with visitation are commonly experienced. The authors recommend family-focused interventions, such as extended familial visits may help maximize the positive effects of visitations while combatting negative effects.

Washington Department of Corrections. (2020). Extended Family Visiting (DOC 590.100; p. 17). Washington Department of Corrections.

This document provides the Washington State Department of Corrections policies related to extended family visitations at carceral facilities in the state. It presents the overall policies of the program and is of critical importance to understanding existing policies in place.

 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

 

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