Prison visitation allows inmates housed in Minnesota facilities to be visited by family, friends, and other approved persons. The program is rated Promising. Inmates visited at least once during their confinement had statistically significant lower risks of reconvictions and technical violation revocations compared with inmates never visited. Inmates visited specifically by community volunteers also had statistically significantly lower risks of recidivism compared with comparison group inmates.
Visitations have been an enduring feature of the U.S. prison system. Research has shown that family and friends can be a valuable source of support for inmates (Duwe and Clark 2011). It is believed that while inmates are in prison, visits from their family, friends, and other important individuals can provide them with a means of establishing, maintaining, or enhancing social support. Once they are released from prison, this social support can help reduce their risk of recidivism and increase the odds of their desisting from crime (Duwe and Johnson 2016).
With regard to prison visitation in Minnesota, visitation policies may differ across the various correctional facilities run by the Minnesota Department of Corrections (MNDOC); however, there are some rules that apply to all state prisons. For example, visits cannot last beyond 2 hours. In addition, there is generally a maximum number of visiting hours each month that an inmates can receive, but the maximum number depends on the security level of the facility. For instance, inmates in the most secure facilities may receive up to 16 hours of visits per month, while those in facilities with lower security levels may receive up to 36 hours of visits per month.
There are other specific requirements for visitations. Inmates are responsible for communicating visitation rules to potential visitors and ensuring that appropriate visitor application materials are completed. If a visitation application is denied, the inmate is responsible for relaying that information to the potential visitor. In addition, visitors are not permitted to be on more than one current state inmate’s visitor list (the exception is immediate family members). This means, for example, that volunteers, such as mentors, are not allowed to visit multiple inmates during the same timeframe. Individuals eligible to visit include family (e.g., spouse, son or daughter, parent, grandparent, sibling, in-law), friends, clergy, and mentors.
There are several theories that emphasize the importance and potential benefits of prison visitations, such as strain theory and social control theory. According to strain theory, social support can help reduce recidivism by helping ease stresses that relate to reentry following release from prison (Agnew 1992). Social control theory suggests that individuals’ attachment/bond to a conventional lifestyle can deter future criminal behavior (Hirschi 1969). Prison visitation is designed to increase inmates’ social supports and attachment to conventional lifestyles, thereby decreasing the risks of recidivating.
Duwe and Clark (2011) found that visitation had a statistically significant effect on the risk for reconviction for a felony. Any visit reduced the risk of reconviction for a felony offense by 13 percent for inmates who were visited in prison compared with inmates who were not visited.
Revocation for a Technical Violation
Visitation had a statistically significant effect on the risk for revocation for a technical violation. Any visit reduced the risk for a technical violation revocation by 25 percent for inmates who were visited in prison compared with inmates who were not visited.
Duwe and Johnson (2016) found that the risk of rearrest was reduced by 25 percent for inmates who were visited by community volunteers (CVs) compared with comparison group inmates who were not visited by CVs, a statistically significant finding.
The risk of reconviction was reduced by 20 percent for inmates who were visited by CVs compared with comparison group inmates, a statistically significant finding.
Reincarceration for New Offense
The risk of reincarnation for a new offense was reduced by 31 percent for inmates who were visited by CVs compared with comparison group inmates, a statistically significant finding.
Revocation for Technical Violation
There was no statistically significant impact of visits by CVs on technical violation revocations.
Duwe and Clark (2011) conducted a quasi-experimental design to examine the effects of prison visitation on recidivism among 16,420 inmates released from Minnesota prisons between 2003 and 2007. Of the 16,420 inmates, 61 percent were visited at least once during their confinement. The treatment group (n = 10,053) included inmates who were visited at least once during their confinement; the comparison group (n = 6,367) included inmates who were not visited during their confinement.
The study sample was majority male (90 percent), and the average age at release from prison was 33.8 years. More than half the study sample (53 percent) were white, and 47 percent were minority (the specific minority races/ethnicities information was not indicated). Of those inmates visited at least once over their entire incarceration period, the average number of visits per inmate was 36 (about 2 visits a month); inmates were on average visited by three individuals. Nearly half (47 percent) of the visited inmates were visited by a friend, nearly one third were visited by their mothers, and more than one fourth were visited by a sibling. There were no statistically significant differences between groups at baseline.
The primary outcome of interest was recidivism, which was measured in two different ways: 1) a reconviction for a felony-level offense and 2) a revocation for a technical violation. Recidivism data was collected on offenders through June 30, 2010, thus the follow-up period ranges from 2.5 to 6.5 years (the average was 4.5 years). Data on felony reconvictions was collected from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), and technical revocation data was collected from the Minnesota Department of Correction’s Correctional Operation Management System (COMS) database. To estimate the effects of any visitation, a dichotomous variable (any visit) was created, in which visited inmates received a value of 1 and those not visited were given a value of 0.
Data was analyzed using a Cox regression model, which uses both “time” and “status” variables in estimating the impact of the independent variable on recidivism. Subgroup analyses were conducted to look at the effects of visitation according to the relationship between the visitor and inmate.
Duwe and Johnson (2016) conducted a follow-up study to Duwe and Clark (2011), using a retrospective quasi-experimental design, to look at the specific effects of visits from community volunteers (CVs), including clergy and mentors, on recidivism of inmates who are visited during their confinement. Of the 10,053 inmates visited at least once, 2.5 percent (418 inmates) were visited by a CV.
To address potential selection bias issues, propensity score matching was used to match the 418 inmates who received a CV visit (treatment group) with 418 inmates who were not visited by a CV (comparison group). Twenty-seven relevant covariates were included in the propensity score model (such as prior convictions, religious affiliation, and age). Inmates in the treatment group were then matched to comparison group inmates who had the closest propensity score. After propensity score matching, the matched sample was 78.7 percent male and 40.4 percent minority (the specific minority races/ethnicities were not indicated), and the average age was 36.9 years. Both CV–visited and comparison-group inmates received on average about 150 visits during confinement. For inmates visited by CVs, the average number of visits per month was 3.5, while the average number of visits for the comparison group was 3.8. There were no statistically significant differences between groups at baseline.
The primary outcome of interest was recidivism, measured as 1) rearrest, 2) reconviction, 3) reincarceration for a new sentence, and 4) revocation for a technical violation. As in the 2011 study, recidivism data was collected on offenders through June 30, 2010, from the Minnesota Department of Correction’s COMS database (for reincarceration and revocation data) and the Minnesota BCA (for arrest and conviction data). The follow-up period ranged from 2.5 to 6.5 years (the average was 4.5 years). To evaluate the relationship between CV visits and recidivism, inmates who received a CV visit were assigned a value of 1 and inmates in the comparison group were assigned a value of 0.
For all four recidivism measures, data was analyzed using a Cox regression model, which uses both “time” and “status” variables in estimating the impact of the independent variable on recidivism.
There is no cost information available for this program.
Other Information (Including Subgroup Findings)
Duwe and Clark (2011) examined the effects of visitation according to the relationship between the visitor and inmate. They found that any visit from a mentor reduced the risk of felony reconviction by 29 percent, a visit from clergy lowered the risk by 24 percent, a visit from an in-law reduced the risk by 21 percent, a visit from a sibling reduced the risk by 10 percent, a visit from other relatives reduced the risk by 9 percent, and a visit from a friend reduced reconviction risk by 7 percent. Visits from relatives also reduced the risk of revocation for a technical violation. For both outcome measures, a visit from an ex-spouse increased the risk of reconviction and revocation.
Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)
These sources were used in the development of the program profile:Study 1
Duwe, Grant, and Valerie Clark. 2011. “Blessed Be the Social Tie That Binds: The Effect of Prison Visitation on Offender Recidivism.” Criminal Justice Policy Review
Duwe, Grant, and Byron R. Johnson. 2016. “The Effects of Prison Visits From Community Volunteers on Offender Recidivism.” Prison Journal
These sources were used in the development of the program profile:
Agnew, Robert. 1992. “Foundation for a General Strain Theory of Crime and Delinquency.” Criminology
Clark, Valerie A., and Grant Duwe. 2017. “Distance Matters: Examining the Factors That Impact Prisoner Visitation in Minnesota.” Criminal Justice and Behavior
Hirschi, Travis. 1969. Causes of Delinquency
. Berkley, Calif.: University of California Press.
Following are CrimeSolutions.gov-rated practices that are related to this program:Prison Visitation for Incarcerated Adults
Prison visitation allows incarcerated individuals the opportunity to meet with family and friends to 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. The practice is rated Promising for reducing recidivism of individuals who receive visits while incarcerated.Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
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