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This study, funded by the National Institute of Justice, will explore whether providing incarcerated people with access to video visitation improves the nature and frequency of prisoners’ contact with their families and other people who support them. It will also explore if these contacts improve their compliance with custodial rules and outcomes after their release from prison.

To learn the degree to which the video visitation program could be replicated in other jurisdictions, if shown to have a positive impact, Vera will also assess the effect of the program on corrections culture, operations, and budgets. Vera’s Family Justice ProgramCenter on Sentencing and Corrections, and Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit are working in partnership with the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) to conduct this study.

Starting in January 2013, using a multi-methods design and combining administrative data, surveys, focus groups, and interviews, the research team will:

  • Study how the Washington State DOC implemented its video visitation program, what the main challenges were, and how these were addressed. Assess what difference, if any, video visitation makes to the frequency and nature of contacts between incarcerated people and their families.
  • Assess how access to video visitation affects in-prison behavior and re-entry outcomes compared to those prisoners without access to video visitation.
  • Compare the costs of operating a video visitation program with the impacts it achieves.
  • Distill lessons about the challenges of implementing and operating a video visitation program in Washington State, the approaches used to address them, and their applicability to other jurisdictions.

Why study video visitation?

Research shows that prison visitation is integral to managing incarcerated people's behavior, reducing recidivism, facilitating their reentry into the community, and promoting positive parent-child relationships. Prisons have been significantly affected by budget cuts in the wake of an economic recession requiring state and federal governments to decrease public spending. Pressed to address a range of prisoners’ needs with limited resources, corrections departments are exploring the use of technology as a means to meet those needs in a cost-effective way. Additionally, as states close prisons, they may be increasing the distances that some families have to travel to visit their loved ones. Corrections agencies are turning to video visitation as a way for incarcerated people to maintain relationships with their families and others in their lives despite these challenges. This is the first comprehensive study of the impact of video visitation on incarcerated people, corrections culture, corrections budgets, and public safety.

This study will provide valuable empirical evidence to inform policy debates about family contact, investments and policies related to video visitation, and recidivism-reduction strategies.

For more information, contact Family Justice Program Director Margaret diZerega.


This project is supported by Award No 2012-IJ-CX-0035, awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.

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