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Practice Profile

Prison Visitation for Incarcerated Adults

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:

Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types

Practice Description

Practice Goals/Practice Components
Prison visitation, a longstanding feature of the U.S. prison system, allows incarcerated individuals the opportunity to meet with family and friends to help sustain connections and social supports. One of the main goals of prison visitation is to reduce recidivism of individuals once they are released from incarceration.

There are two primary types of prison visitation: 1) in-person, and 2) conjugal/furlough. In-person visits can take many forms, depending on the correctional facility, including face-to-face conversations through glass partitions or brief contact (i.e., no overnights) in an open visiting room. Conjugal/furlough visits allow individuals to spend an extended amount of time, usually overnight, with family members, and in mobile homes or other structures that are separate from the general prison population. However, only the following states presently offer conjugal or overnight visits: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Nebraska, New York, South Dakota, and Washington.

Prison visitation may also vary by correctional facility. For example, some prisons may use visitation as a privilege for good behavior or may have a strict screening process and criteria that are used to determine who is eligible to visit (for instance, a visitor can be disqualified from visiting if they provide false or inaccurate information, or if they have a criminal history).

Practice Theory
There are two theoretical perspectives that have been suggested to explain the relationship between prison visitation and successful reentry for adults: social bonds theory and strain theory. Social bonds theory posits that prison visitation can help maintain or strengthen positive social bonds through face-to-face interaction, which can help to prevent incarcerated individuals from engaging in further criminal behavior upon their release. Further, visitation can offer individuals the opportunity to preserve or restore relationships that were severed as a result of their incarceration (Mitchell, Spooner, and Zhang 2016; Mears et al. 2011).

With regard to strain theory, in-prison visitation may help individuals cope with the strain they feel both during and after incarceration. Visitations can reduce individuals’ feelings of frustration, anger, and hopelessness associated with the loss of their ties to families or friends (Mitchell, Spooner, and Zhang 2016; Mears et al. 2011).

Meta-Analysis Outcomes

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Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Aggregating the results from 16 studies, Mitchell, Spooner, and Zhang (2016) found a statistical significant effect on recidivism for prison visitation. The overall odds ratio was 0.740, meaning there was a 26 percent decrease in recidivism for adults who were visited in prison, compared with adults who were not visited during their time in prison.
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Meta-Analysis Methodology

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Meta-Analysis Snapshot
 Literature Coverage DatesNumber of StudiesNumber of Study Participants
Meta-Analysis 11970 - 20141675205

Meta-Analysis 1
Mitchell, Spooner, and Zhang (2016) conducted a meta-analysis to evaluate the impact of prison visitation on recidivism. To be included in the review, the target population was limited to adults who had been released from correctional facilities, and the treatment was limited to prison visitation and did not include other forms of contact (i.e., phone calls). Studies had to be experimental or quasi-experimental and had to include a measure of recidivism (as indicated by arrest, conviction, or incarceration). Studies had to provide data to calculate effect sizes. A comprehensive search was completed but limited to studies published in the English language (although locations outside the United States were included). Several online databases were searched, including Criminal Justice Abstracts, ProQuest, Google Scholar, National Criminal Justice References Service, and PsychInfo.

A total of 16 eligible studies were identified for inclusion in the review. All the studies were quasi-experimental designs, in which the treatment group received visitation, and the control group did not. Two studies focused only on female adults, five studies focused only on male adults, and nine studies included both males and females. Visitation types examined included in-person (10 studies), conjugal/furloughs (5 studies), and family interest (1 study). The outcome (recidivism) was measured in four ways: 1) new arrests (3 studies); 2) new convictions (4 studies); 3) reincarceration (5 studies); and a mixture of arrest, new convictions, and reincarceration (4 studies). Seven of the studies were published in peer-reviewed journals, two were doctoral dissertations, five were government technical reports, and two were books.

The individual and overall effect sizes were calculated as an odds ratio, which represents the odds of recidivism for those who received visitation, compared with the odds of recidivism for those who did not receive visitation. Visitation was coded as a binary measure (i.e., whether the adult was visited or not). Subgroup analyses were conducted to determine moderator effects. A random effects model was used for both the overall effect size and the moderator analyses.
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Cost

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There is no cost information available for this practice.
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Other Information

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Mitchell, Spooner, and Zhang (2016) included additional tests – called moderator analyses – to see if particular factors strengthened the impact of prison visitation on recidivism. Specifically, the moderator analyses looked at the impact of gender, visitation type, and follow-up period. With regard to gender, the largest statistically significant reduction in recidivism was found for studies that included only adult men, a smaller but statistically significant reduction in recidivism was found for studies that included both men and women, and no statistically significant reduction in recidivism was found for studies that included only women. This finding suggests that prison visitation is more effective for adult men, compared with adult women. It is important to note, however, that this finding should be interpreted with caution as only two studies included female-only samples. With regard to visitation type, there was a 36 percent reduction in recidivism found for studies that looked at conjugal visitation and furloughs, and a 25 percent reduction in recidivism for studies looking at in-person visitation (both results were statistically significant). Although it appears that conjugal/furlough visitation had a greater impact than in-person visitation, the authors noted that the studies were conducted over 20 years ago, and therefore the results should be interpreted with caution. Finally, there was a 53 percent reduction in recidivism found for studies on visitation with follow-up periods of less than 1 year and an 8 percent reduction in recidivism found for studies with follow-up periods of more than 1 year but less than 3 years. Both results were statistically significant. However, no statistically significant impact on recidivism was found for studies with follow-up periods of more than 3 years but less than 5 years—which indicates that the impact of prison visitation may decrease over time. It is important to note that this finding should also be interpreted with caution as only two studies had follow-up periods of more than 3 years.
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Evidence-Base (Meta-Analyses Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Meta-Analysis 1
Mitchell, Meghan M., Kallee Spooner, and Di Jia Yan Zhang. 2016. “The Effect of Prison Visitation on Reentry Success: A Meta-Analysis.” Journal of Criminal Justice 47:74–83.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Mears, Daniel P., Joshua Cochran, Sonja Siennick, and William Bales. 2012. “Prison Visitation and Recidivism.” Justice Quarterly 26(6):889–918.
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Related Programs

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Following are CrimeSolutions.gov-rated programs that are related to this practice:

In-Prison Visitation (Florida) Promising - One study
Visitation in prison allows inmates to connect to the outside world by developing social bonds with family members and friends. The overall goal of in-prison visitation is to reduce recidivism and assist in helping inmates adjust to transitioning back into their community. The program is rated Promising. The recidivism rate was significantly lower for inmates who received visitation compared with those inmates who did not receive visitation.
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Practice Snapshot

Age: 18+

Gender: Both

Targeted Population: Families, Prisoners

Settings: Correctional

Practice Type: Aftercare/Reentry

Unit of Analysis: Persons