Categories
Recidivism

The Importance of
Consistent Communication

Anyone who has a family member or friend who is or has been incarcerated knows the struggle and the frustration associated with the behavior of the inmate.

Whether a short term stay or a lengthy sentence, those incarcerated are serving time for breaking the law. That behavior is a thorn in the side of every loved one—a thorn that can lead to a lack of empathy, a lack of patience and a lack of communication in their relationship with the inmate.

While those feelings aren’t uncommon and, in most cases, are justified, people who are incarcerated need consistent communication, empathy and patience, if their loved ones want to see them reenter society with lower recidivism rates than other inmates.

Communication Breakdown

In their research article on recidivism, Matthew A. Koschmann and Brittany L. Peterson argued that many reentry efforts focus primarily on traditional signs of reoffending, rather than on what is actually to blame for that recidivism. In other words, the focus is on continued criminal behavior, violations to parole and compliance with treatment requirements, but not on communication.

According to the pair, “the underlying cause is a communication breakdown of being cut off from networks and meaningful relationships that provide the necessary social capital needed for successful reintegration.”

A parent, spouse, sibling, other family member or good friend needs to continue offering consistent communication to the inmate throughout their sentence. Even better, a network of people who care for the incarcerated individual and want to see them succeed upon release need to work at consistent communication with the inmate to ensure their relationship with the individual stays strong. Deep ties to family and friends help an inmate to walk away from people and situations that don’t have their best interests in mind.

Prison staff should also strive for consistent communication with inmates. However, their style of communication must be different than the support offered by families. Staff have a responsibility to uphold an impartial, professional, and uncompromising relationship with the incarcerated population.

While staff want to see an inmate succeed in reentry and likely have some great advice to share with the inmate along the way, their relationship with any single inmate should be a sterile one.

This is important to remember, because, in some cases, staff relationships are all an inmate has for communication. Staff relationships do not offer the strong, deep ties to family and friends that will see them through difficult situations upon reentry.

Overall Importance of Relationships

According to an Evidence-Based Professionals Society article by Timothy Daty, “When examining recidivism, the study of family relationships is often a key component in predicting repeat criminal behavior among formerly incarcerated individuals. Research suggests that strong family ties produce lasting impacts among this population and often deter future incidents of crime (Bales and Mears, 2008).”

Consistent communication is an important factor in life, whether behind bars or not.

Kathy Miller, a caregiver coordinator who works with the elderly, wrote, “Our ability to communicate thoughts and feelings to those around us helps us to maintain our sense of identity, and is an integral part of maintaining our quality of life.”

She may have been referring to people suffering from Alzheimer’s, but the sentiment remains true to all facets of life. Communication is a key factor in our psychological well-being—something that can warp and disappear very quickly behind bars.

Keeping consistent communication with an incarcerated individual is easier said than done in many cases, as the pressures of prison can be extremely overwhelming, especially in the beginning.

The Roadblocks

There is pressure for inmates to find a group, to assert themselves or blend in, to maintain their independence or embrace the regulatory nature of prison. That pressure is a weight all inmates must carry, and it’s significant.

Inmates face strict regulations on items they can own, the amount of time spent out of their cell, and what they are allowed to eat, which can cause frustration. They also are surrounded by other inmates, some of whom have no desire to grow beyond their poor decisions and cultivate healthy relationships and success in life.

Break the rules, and the few privileges an inmate has will vanish. That includes phone time and in some cases receiving mail, depending on the severity of the infraction. Keeping those communication lines open is vital.

Being part of the support system for an inmate who regularly lands in trouble may put a damper on your relationship, but family members and friends should maintain consistent communication in spite of that, for the benefit of everyone.

According to a Prison Legal News article by Alex Friedmann, “studies have consistently found that prisoners who maintain close contact with their family members while incarcerated have better post-release outcomes and lower recidivism rates.”

While a family member or friend can’t be forced to have consistent communication with an inmate, the opportunity is always there. More and more jails today have various forms of telecommunication for inmates, whether it be video visitation, phones or secure email.

The fact is, making the choice to keep up with your incarcerated loved ones directly affects their likelihood of getting out of jail—and staying out.

Categories
Tips & Facts

The Top 3 Ways Inmates Keep
In Contact With Family Members

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.