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Strong Family Relationships are Essential to Designing Effective Criminal Justice Policy

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Note: PRC encourages the use of person first language whenever possible in referring to people with justice involvement, and people in general. To learn more, click here.

The Crime Report: TCR Staff | January 7, 2022

A new Utah-based report from the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation espouses reforms to expand family visitation and bolster social connections between those convicted of crimes and their respective communities as a necessary means to reduce recidivism and stave off intergenerational imprisonment, reports the Deseret News.

The report argues that the primary narrative around criminal justice is overly concerned with the punitive elements of justice at the expense of meaningful correction, calling for the reevaluation of sentencing practices and inmate placement policies at the behest of strengthening family ties and their associated advantages for reentry.

For example, many prisons only permit collect calls which can cost family members up to $1.20 per minute, practices that are cost-prohibitive barriers to many families, leading to greater isolation of the incarcerated, and weakened community ties that increase the statistical likelihood of post-sentence re-offense.

Family-centric reforms to mitigate the harmful impact on children and offset intergenerational impacts include: expanding eligible visiting hours; creating child-friendly areas, with warm decor and toys; eliminating character limitations on email correspondence and allowing photographs to be sent to prisoners; and in some cases allowing overnight stays for family members who must travel long distances. In fact, prison proximity represents one of the major barriers to maintaining family ties as inmates are often migrated to prisons hundreds of miles from their families, making visitation challenging and accelerating disconnection from communities where sustained engagement is vital to positive social outcomes following emancipation.

Intergenerational criminal behavior is another consequence of today’s punitive justice practices, with currently 1.5 million minor children averaging the age of 9 or 10 with a parent in prison in the United States being “on average, six times more likely to become incarcerated themselves,” the report states, citing research from the National Institute of Justice.

"The policy prescriptions that flow from the research on family ties and incarceration are straightforward. Visitation is associated with reduced recidivism. Visitation is also associated with increased parental involvement following release and a reduced risk of poor mental health outcomes for children. Distance from home decreases visitation. Indeed, distance is frequently reported as a top barrier to in-person contact by family members. For families and children who are unable to make in-person visits, phone calls, email, and letters provide alternative ways to maintain contact during incarceration. The strength of an individual’s ties with family members is one of the most important determinants of successful reentry. These findings all support the view that facilitating contact between incarcerated individuals and family members is an important objective whose benefits extend well beyond the period of incarceration. There are a number of steps policymakers can take to facilitate such contact." (Bates, Christopher 2021)

To read the full article, click here.

To read the full report from the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation, click the attachment above or here.

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