In an article about the Butte County Jail's new policy of video visitation, reporter Howard Hardee interviewed Margaret diZerega, director of Vera's Family Justice Program, to learn about the program's study of the use of video visitation:
"But exactly how prisoners are affected by communicating with their loved ones through a computer screen has yet to be studied empirically, said Margaret diZerega, director of the Vera Institute of Justice’s Family Justice Program. In conducting a Washington state-based study, 'A new role for technology: The impact of video visitation on corrections staff, inmates, and their families,' diZerega’s team is doing just that, though the preliminary research (the study was launched in January) has yet to offer any definitive conclusions.
'We are seeing more jails moving toward non-contact visits, and I don’t really think we know what the implications are yet,' diZerega said. 'All this stuff is so new, and studies haven’t been done. The Washington study will be the first of its kind for prison settings. We don’t really know what the impact is going to be.'
Unlike Butte County, Washington is offering video visitation in addition to face-to-face meetings rather than as a replacement, diZerega said. State officials hope the video visits will allow inmates more frequent contact with the outside world, particularly with friends or family members who live too far away to visit in person.
'Video visitation is an interesting option when it’s about increasing frequency of contact or expanding the range of people who can stay in touch with somebody who is incarcerated, but not as a substitute for in-person visits,' she said.
In any case, diZerega said, a significant body of research on state-prison populations suggests receiving regular visits is tremendously important for an inmate’s overall state of mind.
'People in prison who get more visits, they have fewer behavioral issues while they’re incarcerated and also do better once they’re back out into the community,' she said."