It’s easy to take family for granted. In most cases, our wishes to be connected are granted at the simple touch of a button, whether we’re a world away from our family or connecting with a childhood friend we last saw 20 years ago. Have you had a rough week at work and need some positive words of encouragement? Your family members are only a phone call or Facebook message away.

Consistent communication constitutes a vital part of our everyday life, and for obvious reasons. Humans are social animals, by nature. Consider what it would be like to lose contact with your far-off loved ones. Many inmates living in correctional facilities face this isolation, and their families feel it too. Unfortunately, budgetary restrictions and a lack of resources end up separating families all across this nation. Although maintaining and improving inmate communication methods remains a struggle, the research cited below demonstrates the importance of consistent communication for those in correctional facilities.

Costly Calls

The most common and widely adopted avenue for inmate communication is the use of inmate phones. Given that this mode of communication is easily monitored and offers rapid accessibility in regards to reaching family members, it seems like a no-brainer that this is the most popular option. However, unless you’ve had to phone a relative or friend in prison, you may not be aware of the high costs that tag along with these phone calls. This cost not only discourages attempting single, one-off calls, it also creates barriers for family members trying to maintain consistent contact with incarcerated loved ones. In a research study called the Community Justice Project, a group of Minnesota prisoners explained the importance of phone calls. One member explained how important phone calls are, stating: “Hearing that voice that says they love you is your lifeline.” Despite the price restrictions that come with inmate phone calls, it’s a service many rely upon to communicate with their loved ones.

You’ve Got Mail

Two other common, more cost-efficient methods of inmate communication are inmate mail and email. The majority of correctional facilities allow written correspondence in the form of physical mail. The cost of the stamp, envelope, and paper associated with physical mail and the almost nonexistent cost to send an email are minuscule compared to the costs of phoning family members. Other added benefits of written correspondence in prison facilities is the potential they have in correcting behavior in a positive aspect. In fact, many researchers studying imprisonment believe that written communication between inmates and free citizens holds immense potential. According to the Crime Museum, “[Written correspondence] is thought to provide a link between their current and former lives and will give them a desire to get out as quickly as possible and never return.” The only downside here is that few jail administrators have established inmate email services, even though these services are just as secure as traditional postage.

In the Flesh

While in-person visitation with friends and family members is less popular than phone calls or physical mail, it holds many advantages from a rehabilitation standpoint. Not only does the inmate get to hear the voices of their loved ones, but they also get to see their faces as well. Many correctional facilities accommodate in-person visitation, but only in tight moderation. Other agencies have fairly subjective rules, and leaving administration of this privilege to the discretion of individual officers. For example, Washington State Penitentiary discourages “excessive emotion” but enforcement of that rule is left up to the on-duty staff.

A new trend that many prisons and jails are adopting is video visitations, or speaking to your incarcerated loved ones through a video chat, like Skype. There are many advantages to this, such as less concern with contraband coming in, leading to fewer strip searches. Further, jails also profit by adopting this method. According to National Public Radio (NPR), “If families do a video visit at the jail, it’s free, but if they do it from their home computer, it can cost $1 per minute.” Although this comes with many added benefits, the one very important thing that is lost here is the physical touch and presence of family members and loved ones, an irreplaceable virtue. These trade-offs should encourage jail administrators to offer both options as complimentary services for the public, instead of only offering in-person or video visitation.

Communication is Key

When it comes to maintaining relationships for incarcerated people, consistency is indispensable. From both a rehabilitation and behavioral standpoint, correctional facilities could see vast positive impacts in implementing these communication methods. In fact, according to a 1972 study, Explorations in Inmate-Family Relationships, the central finding of the research revealed a “strong and consistent positive relationship that exists between parole success and maintaining strong family ties while in prison.” The Campaign for Prison Phone Justice also touches on the importance of consistent communication, noting: “Research has demonstrated that regular communication between prisoners and their loved ones reduces recidivism and promotes successful re-entry.” Just as in any relationship, communication is key. While many correctional facilities have done a fine job at implementing different modes of communication, it is paramount that we take advantage of every options. The benefits of phone calls, mail, and visitations of all types shouldn’t be under-estimated, because better communication is a win-win for all.

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