Utilize the Family Structure to Prepare Offenders for Re-entry

By · Friday, March 20th, 2009

More than two years have passed since I’ve heard my mother’s voice. I have not spoken with my younger sister, Christina, in the same length of time. During those two years I’ve seen my older sister, Julie, three times. I hardly know my nieces and nephew, as prison rules prohibit me from playing a significant role in their lives. How can policies that block people from family serve the interests of our enlightened society.

The U.S. Congress made specific findings in The Second Chance Act. One of those findings was that prison administrators fail to make effective use of the family structure to prepare offenders for re-entry. The obstacles that prison culture erects to block family and community ties play a significant role in influencing high recidivism rates.

Jon-Daniel, a bright criminal justice student, asked how society could implement reforms that would strengthen family ties. It would be simple. Administrators could simply provide prisoners with more access to speak with family members over the telephone. The 300-minutes per month BOP phone policy limits prisoners to speaking on the phone for an average of less than 10 minutes per day.

As Jon-Daniel observed in his comment, prison makes it difficult to nurture marital bonds. I am a long-term prisoner, and as such I must invest myself totally in my relationship with Carole. She serves this prison term along with me, and struggles every day as a consequence of the oppressive prison rules that block family ties.

To overcome the challenges of confinement, I must make every effort possible to nurture and sustain my marriage to Carole. That means I must reserve all of my telephone and visiting privileges for her. As a consequence of forcing me to prioritize how I will use my minimal access to family ties, prison policies cause me to sacrifice my relationships with extended family members. This absurdity contributes to high recidivism rates and higher prison operating costs. Prisoners who have strong family ties are more likely to adjust in positive ways. Those who lack strong family ties are more susceptible to the negative influences of the prison. They join gangs and engage in disruption.

 Administrators could implement prison reforms that would offer prisoners access to more privileges and mechanisms that would help them strengthen family ties. They could offer privileges as incentives, making the privileges conditional upon positive adjustment patterns. For example, by educating himself, working, and avoiding disciplinary infractions, a prisoner ought to earn more access to family. Administrators could dispense telephone access, visiting privileges, even e-mail to prisoners who demonstrate a commitment to redemption. Those changes would bring many advantages, including:

*lower recidivism rates

*lower incidences of gang corruption

*lower prison operating costs

*safer communities

*stronger family ties

Incentives would improve America’s prison system.

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