Study Finds that Family Visitation Is Linked to Improved Outcomes for Incarcerated Youth

NEW YORK—Incarcerated youth who receive weekly visits by family members behave better and do better in school while confined, according to new research from the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera). While research shows that incarcerated adults who have strong relationships with loved ones fare better in prison and pose less of a risk to public safety when they return to the community, this is one of the first studies to examine the effects of family relationships on juveniles who are in correctional facilities. The Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) collaborated on the study, which was part of a project called Families as Partners: Supporting Youth Reentry in Ohio. DYS is the first agency to implement Vera’s Juvenile Relational Inquiry Tool, which helps staff identify youth's family and social support.

The results are described in a new brief, The Impact of Family Visitation on Incarcerated Youth’s Behavior and School Performance: Findings from the Families as Partners Project, published today by Vera. An analysis of self-reported survey data of juveniles from four youth correctional facilities in Ohio and DYS administrative data found that sustained contact with family and other social supports were linked to better outcomes for youth in these facilities. Youth who had ongoing supportive relationships with family and friends showed measurable improvement in behavior and school performance.

In February 2010, Vera’s Family Justice Program began Families as Partners in partnership with the Ohio Department of Youth Services, and with support from the Public Welfare Foundation. The project, which concluded in March 2013, sought to promote better outcomes for incarcerated youth by helping staff draw on their families as a source of material and emotional support, encouraging visits and correspondence between youth and their families, and increasing family involvement in youth’s treatment and reentry plans.

Family Justice Program staff assisted the facilities’ staff in the use of methods that highlight family connections and focus on the youth’s strengths and abilities. Vera also helped DYS incorporate improved staff practices into the agency’s policy. The research component of the project analyzed how family support affected outcomes for youth during their incarceration.

Despite the benefits of family contact for youth, the brief notes that families often face significant barriers when visiting incarcerated youth, particularly distance. The author recommends that facilities design visitation policies that encourage frequent contact.

Read the brief >>