Prison Visitation Policies: A Fifty State Survey
32 Yale Law and Policy Review 149 (2013)
41 Pages Posted: 6 Nov 2012 Last revised: 2 Jun 2021
Date Written: February 17, 2014
This paper presents a summary of the findings from the first fifty-state survey of prison visitation policies. Our research explores the contours of how prison administrators exercise their discretion to prescribe when and how prisoners may have contact with friends and family.
Visitation policies impact recidivism, inmates’ and their families’ quality of life, public safety, and prison security, transparency and accountability. Yet many policies are inaccessible to visitors and researchers. Given the wide-ranging effects of visitation, it is important to understand the landscape of visitation policies and then, where possible, identify best practices and uncover policies that may be counterproductive or constitutionally infirm. Comparative analysis of the sort we have undertaken will, we hope, not only inform academics but empower regulators and administrators of prisons to implement thoughtful reforms.
Our paper and data set allow for state-by-state comparison across a group of common categories of visitation-related policies. In addition, we identify commonalities and variation in the categories we tracked, and also documented outlier policies revealed in the course of our research. We worked with the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) to track down difficult-to-find policy documents, and received written feedback from nearly all fifty state departments of corrections to ensure accuracy.
The paper is organized as follows. Part I describes the methodology we employed and considers its potential limitations. Part II provides our key substantive findings, presents a few highlights of the data, and discusses the basic commonalities of the policies, while noting the divergence in other key areas. Part III provides a detailed description of two sub-policy areas within visitation regulations. Here we analyze in more detail the range of approaches that states take to two contrasting forms of visitation: video visitation and overnight family (“conjugal”) visitation. Part IV outlines possible next steps for research on this topic.
Keywords: prison, criminal, visitation, incarceration, 50 state survey
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