Any student of history knows that functioning societies and verbal communication are inextricably linked. Whether we’re talking about skyscrapers or social bonds, without verbal communication, humans would have never succeeded in building anything. Our ability to communicate is an integral part of our identity. However, in the absence of communication, a criminal identity can take the place of a functional identity.
Thanks to our ever-growing digital landscape, more traditional forms of communication have been taken for granted. Why make a phone call when it’s more convenient to share the same information via text, email or social media?
Technological progress has made it possible for us to communicate in ways that don’t involve a true vocal exchange. The consequence of which is a dramatic social shift that has forever changed human interaction.
Nevertheless, the most tried-and-true method for getting a message across, resolving conflict or reinforcing social ties is speaking face to face or by phone. Take the workplace for example.
A 2020 study done by SocialChorus revealed that 73 percent of survey respondents believe effective workplace communication promotes a healthier culture, inevitably leading to stronger worker mental health.
Meaningful communication gives us a sense of belonging and validation. It’s vital to our emotional, mental and social wellness. Though many of us don’t think about it, the same is true for inmates in our jail and prison systems.
Countless studies have shown that regular contact with loved ones, whether through visitation or phone calls, creates positive stimulation for those behind bars.
The upshot of this is inmates are less likely to violate rules while serving their sentence or, more importantly, reoffend at some point. Encouraging inmates to maintain communication with their families leads to positive short-term and long-term effects. In the short term, correctional environments are safer and in the long term, reintegration is often smoother. As researchers Michael Rocque, David Bierie, and Doris MacKenzie put it, socialization lowers the chances inmates will develop a criminal identity while confined.
Conversely, an inmate who’s unable to speak frequently with loved ones is liable to smuggle contraband into the facility—namely, cellphones. And as technology continues to progress, illicit access to mobile phones will be considerably easier for inmates.
An inmate who introduces contraband to a correctional environment is likely to continue this behavior, thereby taking on a criminal identity.
Along with facilitating communication between inmates and their families, the need for modernized options is fundamental to rehabilitation efforts as well.
With the increased push towards virtual and online services, correctional institutions will need to keep pace. Ensuring security and making every effort not to disrupt existing family ties should be a top priority.
Not only does this apply to telephonic modernization, but it should also include a less burdensome and arbitrary approach to visitation. A 2011 study conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice found that inmates’ family members cited unreasonably long waits and unclear rules as reasons they wouldn’t visit again.
The physical distance between family and inmates coupled with the stringent nature of visitation procedures makes contact by phone all the more important. Greater access and an emphasis on adapting to evolving telecommunications will be the challenge for correctional facilities going forward. But, as we’ve seen across multiple studies for decades, providing inmates the opportunity to maintain familial connections helps lower recidivism and aids successful rehabilitation.
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