By Christopher Zoukis The regional jail system in West Virginia receives and screens about 300,000 pieces of mail per year. Some letters contain illegal substances being smuggled into facilities for prisoners, particularly subuxone; in response, the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety has implemented a new rule meant to foil such attempts.
Prisoner Visitation and Support (PVS) is the only nationwide, interfaith visitation program with access to all federal and military prisons and prisoners in the United States. Sponsored by 35 national religious bodies and socially-concerned agencies (consisting of Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and secular organizations), PVS seeks to meet the needs of prisoners through an alternative
Alabama’s prison system is the first – and currently only – in the nation to require visitors to be fingerprinted. In late 2012, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) implemented the new policy due to what officials claimed was a need for greater efficiency. A new computer system had the capacity to scan fingerprints, something the old system was not able to do. The fingerprinting procedure was “part of the upgrade” and the brainchild of the ADOC’s IT department, according to prison system spokesman Brian Corbett.
The old system required guards to review each visitor’s driver’s license to verify their identity before allowing them into a state prison.
“That was a time-consuming task,” Corbett told the Montgomery Advertiser. “Now, the verification process is much faster, so visitors are moved through the process much faster.”
“We still require visitors to have a government-issued photo ID, and that requirement will remain in place,” he added. “But there are times when someone else resembles the photo on an ID. Scanning the fingerprint of visitors verifies they are who they say they are.”
The program prompted an immediate response from the American Civil Liberties Union. David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, didn’t buy the ADOC’s purported security concerns.
No one needs convincing that prison is probably a lonely place, filled with hostile guards and dangerous inmates. At least from the Hollywood point of view, the only comfort for most convicts is a letter from home or the occasional visit from family or friends. Sadly, though, a new study indicates that many prisoners do not even have the solace of visitors from outside, and that the average inmate receives only two visits during their entire length of incarceration.
Prisoner Visitation’s Connection to Recidivism
Consistent with previous research, a recent study published in the journal Crime and Delinquency indicates that Florida prisoners who regularly receive visitors do better during their stay behind bars and upon re-entry into the community than those who don’t receive frequent visits. “Visitation helps individuals maintain social ties during imprisonment, which, in turn, can improve inmate behavior and reduce recidivism,” the authors of the study wrote. “Not being visited can result in collateral consequences and inequality in punishment.”
Those Who Receive Few to No Visits
Necessarily implied by the study’s findings is that many prisoners receive no visitors at all. Those who are older, black, or have been incarcerated numerous time had the fewest visitors. White, Latino, younger, and newly incarcerated inmates received the most visits. Economic status and the length of a prisoner’s sentence did not factor into the likelihood of visitors.