The Double Edged Sword of Prison Video Visitation: Claiming to Keep Families Together While Furthering the Aims of the Prison Industrial Complex
30 Pages Posted: 4 Jul 2014
Date Written: April 30, 2014
Each year, the United States (“U.S.”) spends billions to house the country’s massive prison population. The need to board over 2.3 million incarcerated human beings has U.S. correctional departments looking for ways to increase revenues and offset costs. According to these correctional agencies, one major expense is prison visitation. In order to reduce spending and alleviate safety concerns, U.S. federal, state, and private correctional facilities have turned to video visitation as an alternative to in-person visits.
The use of prison video visitation systems started in 1995. Since then, many private telecommunications companies have professed to have the solution to correctional visitation problems. These companies promote video visitation as a cheap, safe, and easy alternative to in-person visits, as well as a profitable means of generating revenues. Government and private correctional institutions, buying into these endorsements, have reduced or completely eliminated face-to-face visits and installed video visitation systems within their walls. Under this structure, inmates use video stations in their cellblock to visit family and friends at corresponding video kiosks within the institution; or inmates visit loved-ones who are at home or elsewhere outside prison walls via computer Internet video visitation.
In order to sell this method of visitation to the public, U.S. correctional agencies contend that video visitation helps to keep families together by allowing inmates greater contact opportunities with loved ones. In some regards, it may be argued that video visitation does assist in the preservation of family units. Inmates are often forced to serve time in prisons miles away from their homes, so outside visits are far and few between. Yet, through the use of in-home video visitation configurations, inmates are able to connect with relatives who reside hours away.
At first glance, this visitation scheme may seem beneficial, but this Article argues that prison video visitation is a double edge sword. First, prison video visitation may help preserve family units while people are incarcerated, but the elimination of face-to-face visits robs inmates of much needed human contact with their children, spouses, and other family members. Second, almost all in-home prison video visitation systems exploit the relatives and friends of inmates because they charge excessive fees to visit. Third, the economic success of prison video visitation systems is contingent on the number of incarcerated humans. So, like other profiteering schemes of the Prison Industrial Complex (“PIC”), prison video visitation incentivizes incarceration: A decrease in the prison population has a corollary effect on million dollar revenues and corporate profits, hence compelling the need to detain more U.S. inhabitants.
Consequently, this Article argues that face-to-face visitation should be the primary means of contact for families that visit at prison facilities. In order to accomplish this goal, inmates must be assigned to correctional facilities close to their homes if space is available and there is no proven risk to security. Additionally, if prison video visitation is utilized, any fees associated with its use must be regulated to insure that the financial expense is not exorbitant.
Keywords: Prison Industrial Complex, Prison Video Visitation, Mass Incarceration
JEL Classification: K, K14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation