Outside Contact

Allowing easier contact methods behind prison walls isn't being "soft on crime" or "rewarding bad behavior." It is directly reducing the number of people we will pay to incarcerate each year. This is no longer just the sentiment shared throughout the human rights world; it's a proven fact based on decades of research. In fact, one of the most comprehensive studies on the matter was done by the Minnesota Department of Corrections. The study examined 16,420 offenders released between 2003-2007 and reported the following: Inmates who received a single visit during their incarceration were 13 percent less likely to receive a felony reconviction and 25 percent less likely to be incarcerated for a technical violation revocation over a five-year period.

The research on inmates' abilities to better themselves through contact from the outside world is vast and conclusive; however, it is not always the intent of the system. In recent years, we've seen "postcard only" policies implemented at many facilities, which literally reduces what can be sent in or out of prison to postcards only. Some prisons are charging visitation fees if you come to visit an incarcerated loved one. Florida has banned inmates from seeking pen-pals - even for religious purposes. Perhaps the most fascinating part of the Florida pen-pal ban, and certainly the most ironic, has to do with its originator: James Crosby. Crosby is the former Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections, and he recently finished serving years in a federal prison, convicted for accepting kickbacks while serving as the head of the Florida Department of Corrections! No word on whether or not he had any pen-pals during his incarceration.

No, prison is not supposed to be fun. Being imprisoned is how a civil society punishes illegal behavior. Prison is, however, intended to be rehabilitative, releasing individuals who have paid their debt to society back into the free world to live among us, to reunite with and support their families, to avoid returning to prison. With a tremendous body of research showing that people are much less likely to reoffend if they experience contact with the outside world during their imprisonment, we would be fools to do otherwise. There has been some progress on this front since the FCC recently announced its intentions to cap the amount a prison phone call can cost. For those who have never experienced the displeasure of having a phone conversation with a loved one in prison, it can cost as much as $18 for a 15-minute phone call. How long could you afford to talk to someone you love in prison each month?

We need to become a nation that governs based on actual research and facts, not vengeance and cruelty. After all, the correctional facility is still supposed to be “corrective.”


carmen morantine's picture

I totally agree vengeance and cruelty helps no one and only perpetuates the issues people in prison deal with. I also do not understand why the phone calls have to cost so much. I believe it has to make a positive difference in an incarcerated person to have contact with the outside world. I also do not see the reason we can only email 3 a month. that is not really very much at all.