Under normal circumstances, we say, “don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time”. That is a consistent reality. It holds true. On the other hand, we know that there are so many men and women behind bars who don’t belong there. They are innocent; didn’t do the crime for which they have been convicted and jailed.
Although being behind bars is an awful existence for the most part, there are a few select privileges that inmates receive access to at certain times of the year and on certain occasions. The one receiving focus now is the holiday season-Christmas time. This is one time of the year when friends and families can visit with their loved ones who are incarcerated. Men and women both are allowed to see their children and spouses. Even parents can visit their child in jail. Of course, this is should these people choose to visit.
Here we are in the throws of a global pandemic. Restrictions have been placed in so many settings. There are travel restrictions, entertainment-related restrictions, and restrictions pertaining to the prison system. “Needlessly cruel” limitations on contacts between incarcerees and relatives imposed since the outbreak of COVID-19, not only increase the chances of repeat offenses but have a negative impact on the emotional and physical health of family members, according to a pair of recently released reports.
Many jails and prisons have in place a whole host of rules and prohibitions, that are seemingly designed to make staying connected to loved ones difficult. There are limitations on visiting hours, restrictions on written mail, and charges for video phone calls that few families can afford.
Ultimately, these policies and practices serve to cut people off from their support systems; they are dehumanizing and traumatizing for everyone involved. Released last week, the Prison Policy Initiative cited a 2014 study of female inmates showing that incarcerees who maintained phone contact with relatives or children outside the prison were less likely to be reincarcerated. Similarly, a 2020 survey of incarcerated parents showed that parent-child relationships improved when they had weekly phone calls.
To incarcerated people and their families, it’s glaringly obvious that staying in touch by any means necessary — primarily through visits, phone calls, and mail — is tremendously important and beneficial to everyone involved.
Prison- and jail-imposed barriers to family contact fly in the face of decades of social science research showing associations between family contact and outcomes including in-prison behavior, measures of health, and re-conviction after release. Helping incarcerees maintain contact with family and community is an essential tool for reducing recidivism. Ripping people away from everyone who supports them is going to hinder them when they need to rely on that support when they go home, to stay safe and to stay free.
Incorporating more humane visitation policies at correctional facilities should be considered best practices as are facilities in a few states now. For example, in a Connecticut juvenile facility, families can spend extended time with detainees, and staff are on hand to answer questions. In other prisons, some visiting areas have designated play areas with toys for children.
Since the pandemic, many of the almost 2 million people incarcerated haven’t seen their loved ones-not even on a videochat. This is almost two years now. In some facilities, people who tested positive for COVID 19 lost their phone privileges. One person allegedly committed a crime and is already separated from loved ones by virtue of incarceration. Is it fair to punish their families, friends and children, too, by placing barriers before maintaining contact?
Humans are social creatures by nature, and in any society, contact is vital for habilitation or rehabilitation as a part of healthy development and positive pathway discovery. If in jail, and no contact is allowed or too heavily restricted, will these people be reasonably expected to make more productive decisions in the future? Even the most violent offender, anti-social menace, and other extreme cases of individuals whose problems aren’t criminally motivated in purity, ARE ACTALLY mandated for human contact and interactions periodically. It is more than a privilege; it is a need for humans to engage with others, especially loved ones.
Moving away from this punitive design, carcaral thinking and towards privatized systems now offer mere revolving doors to enter and re-enter just to generate bodies for profit. For free, in fact. Free labor with no connection to society and no voice, too.We talk about change, but we do nothing to move it along. Now is the time to rethink our concept of human beings and what is needed to thrive, not survive. Survival is a life skill, but what do we want that to look like? Where is the line drawn-across the board, equitably? Currently our idea of solving criminal problems in society is increasing these very same problems Be preventive, humanistic and behave as though we sincerely believe in the power and possibilities of change for all, not just some. How do we all practically unanimously agree that children should be taught and disciplined?
The persistence of COVID should persuade correctional authorities to ensure that inmate-family contacts are vastly expanded. And, as the pandemic wears on, hopefully families and inmates should receive more phone and video time, fewer fees and better mail options in order to preserve family ties and those critical benefits that result from family contact. Not another isolated and lonely Christmas! Now, don’t you agree that this is a completely different level of punishment. Are we punishing convicted people more than once, or rather concurrent and consecutively adding on too many more stressful circumstances above being imprisoned already?