Transitioning to Video Visits

By: Le Thompson

We’re living in a digital age. Most people would rather be glued to their device screens than connect in person. But human interaction and physical touch are important for our mental and physical wellbeing.

When you’re incarcerated, you are more in need of these physical connections that provide hope, confidence and the strength to move forward.

Recently, Congress passed Senate Bill 1614 which introduced video visitations as an option for inmates to see and speak with loved ones. This has many benefits for those whose family members can’t visit in person; but some institutions are going to video visits only and, for researchers, that’s a problem.

The bill states that video visitations aren’t supposed to replace physical visitations. However, many correctional facilities are eliminating the option for physical visitation and adopting the digital version instead. Also, there’s a money factor. Is video calling benefiting inmates and their families, or is it just becoming another way to create revenue for our criminal justice system?

According to Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and Prison Policy Initiative, two prison reform advocates, eliminating or restricting physical visitation between incarcerated people and their loved ones can have negative effects on both sides. It can break up support systems, add barriers for older adults who aren’t familiar with the latest technology and limit access for low-income families who can’t afford the new costs of video calling services.

The most important concern is weakening the bond between incarcerated people and the outside world, since it’s those connections that can help eliminate recidivism (a person’s tendency to re-offend).

For most county jails, there are no contact visits — so video visits can be a positive thing. They allow families to visit more often, have less restrictive hours, and speak to each other for a longer period of time.

The reality is that video visiting was never intended to replace in-person contact visits (which are still allowed in most state-run institutions), but when it becomes the only way to visit, or becomes too expensive, it adds another barrier to reducing recidivism and successful reentry.