The Value of Visitation


hen incarcerated people have the opportunity to nurture relationships with family and friends in the community, everyone benefits. Research suggests that the health and well-being of incarcerated parents and their children improve when they are able to maintain contact within a structured family intervention. Some studies also indicate a correlation between visitation and a decrease in violence and rule breaking in correctional facilities, making them safer for both staff and those who are incarcerated. Other research shows that visitation ultimately makes communities safer, because incarcerated people who receive visits are less likely to commit another crime upon release.

Visitation takes place in different ways across the country’s roughly 3,000 jail jurisdictions and can be denied or suspended, based on an incarcerated person’s behavior. While prisons still offer face-to-face contact, many jails have implemented video instead of or in addition to in-person visitation. Some jurisdictions provide at-home videoconferencing through a private company, which often requires a fee, while others offer the service within the facility or at a community location, which requires travel and planning.

The logistics of any of these options can be difficult for families to manage. Even when jails are nearby, the price of bus tickets for a family without a vehicle can be prohibitive. Limited visiting hours and long waiting times for processing mean that visiting a family member in jail may also require time away from work or school. Despite these challenges, many families go to great personal and financial expense to keep in touch with their incarcerated loved ones.

Indeed, families like April’s in “Fighting for Face Time” implicitly know the value of visitation—that it helps incarcerated loved ones maintain and strengthen their relationships to family and community. Visits can especially help ease the strain on the children who have lost parents to incarceration. Visits can also provide opportunities to create new connections, such as with clergy members or community volunteers; this can not only help support someone’s successful return to the community upon release but also maintain hope and a sense of stability while in jail, whether that person’s length of stay is a few days or several months.