Tag Archives: Prisoners

Effects of Prison Visitation on Offender Recidivism

A recent study demonstrated the impact connection and communication with family has on reducing recidivism. Specifically, the impact of visitation on recidivism. The study also found that nearly 40 percent of prisoners were not visited once while in prison.

It is clear from this study that by providing a more frequent and better means of communicating for both those who receive visitors, and especially for those who do not, recidivism can be reduced. One means of doing so is to provide increased access to telecommunications services between visits. The meshDETECT secure prison cell phone solution addresses this opportunity. By providing each prisoner with a secure cell phone, more and higher quality phone contact will result and recidivism will be reduced. As the study states, “the more sources of social support an offender has, the lower the risk of recidivism.”

The Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) recently completed a study that examined the effects of prison visitation on offender recidivism. Using an average follow-up period of nearly five years, the study evaluated the relationship between prison visitation and recidivism among 16,420 offenders released from Minnesota prisons between 2003 and 2007.


• Offenders who were visited in prison were significantly less likely to recidivate. The reductions in recidivism were:
– 13 percent for a felony reconviction
– 25 percent for reincarceration for a technical violation revocation

• Nearly 40 percent of the offenders were not visited once while in prison.

• Visits from siblings, in-laws, fathers and clergy were the most beneficial in lowering recidivism.

• The frequency with which inmates were visited had a significant effect on recidivism.
– Inmates visited more often were less likely to recidivate.

• Visits closer to an offender’s release date had a greater impact on reducing recidivism.

• The larger an offender’s social support system, the lower the risk for recidivism.
– The total number of different individual visitors an offender had was significantly associated with less recidivism.

The findings suggest that prison visitation can significantly improve the transition
offenders make from the institution to the community. Any visit reduced the risk of
recidivism by 13 percent for felony reconvictions and 25 percent for technical violation
revocations. The findings further showed that more frequent and recent visits were
associated with a decreased risk of recidivism. The results also suggest that the more
sources of social support an offender has, the lower the risk of recidivism.


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Riot Breaks Out After Cell Phones Confiscated

There are a couple of interesting aspects to this article. First, that there was a riot due to contraband cell phones being confiscated. Clearly, the motivation for the anger was the potential loss of contact with loved ones.

The other is the fact that jammers had been installed at this prison in Pakistan, but were removed because “the jammers affected the services of all cellular networks outside of the jails as well.”

Jailed prisoners started a riot and injured a magistrate on Saturday after a blanket ban on cell phones in Gilgit’s sub-jail began being enforced.

Inmates smashed an empty teacup on a magistrate’s head when he tried to conduct a body search of inmates suspected of illegally using cell phones in prison, police and other sources said on Sunday. Prisoners also set furniture on fire and blocked police reinforcements from gaining access to the jail for over two hours.

Despite the ban, inmates were still using cell phones and when magistrate Muhammad Qurban conducted a raid including body searching inmates, one of them smashed an empty cup on his head, leaving him injured. He was later shifted to a hospital for treatment, but not without seizing a number of phones, leaving prisoners enraged. When police on duty retaliated, the convicts began torching furniture and other paraphernalia.

When inmates successfully prevented reinforcements from entering, the government sought help from clergymen to avoid bloodshed and diffuse the situation peacefully. After the delegation’s negotiation, police were allowed to enter the jail and the fires were extinguished by the fire brigade.

In July this year, authorities installed several jammers around both of the city’s jails to curb cell phone use. After finding that the jammers affected the services of all cellular networks outside of the jails as well, they were removed around two weeks later.

Gilgit Assistant Commissioner Usman Ahmed said that legally, inmates are entitled to accessing landline phones only, and even that must be in the presence of police officials, adding that this practice is used in jails all over the country.


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Visiting Family In Jail No Easy Task

This article is about the challenges and indignities of visiting a loved one in jail. The sheriff in charge of the jail discusses the environment in the visiting room, “There are loads of kids there. And a strong part of me says that’s not a good environment for any child. I don’t want kids seeing this stuff. The other side is, if they’re connecting with their father, that’s a good thing, too. We can’t do it any other way because we have so many visitors, so many prisoners. You want to make it better. I’m struggling how to pull that off.”

Certainly families want and deserve to see their incarcerated love ones. In addition to visitation however, enhanced and more frequent telephone conversations would assist in allowing children of prisoners to connect with their incarcerated parent. Part of the challenge for prisons in allowing access to prison payphones is the safety risk of prisoner movement required to get prisoners to the phones. By deploying the meshDETECT secure prison cell phone solution, prisons can minimize the need for prisoner movement which enhances the safety of both detainees and guards while offering families more frequent and higher quality contact with their incarcerated loved ones.

Every Thursday since the arrest of his son July 30, Neal Tarshis rolls his wheelchair to a bus stop to begin a trek to Cook County Jail.

“I see him as much as they let me,” says Tarshis, over the rumble of the #93 bus. “I want him to know someone cares.”

Tarshis, 63, in a wheelchair because of severe arthritis, lives in Astoria Place, a nursing home at 6300 N. California. It is a two-hour, four-bus commute — the #93 to the #82 to the #126 to the #94 — to get to the jail at 3000 S. California. Once, he says, he made the trip only to find he couldn’t get in to see his son.

“I went with Neal,” said a friend. “They changed visiting hours without notice. They didn’t treat him nice. It was a nightmare.”

Tarshis wrote to me to complain, and since I couldn’t go back in time and observe how he was handled or mishandled at the jail, the thing to do was to go with him and watch.

Some 11,000 prisoners live at the jail, giving it the population of Edison Park. The mayor of the jail, so to speak, is Sheriff Tom Dart, and if you expect him to be defensive about mistreated visitors, you’d be wrong.

“I detest apologists rationalizing bad behavior,” Dart said. “Sometimes there’s elements of truth in both sides. There are times when I scratch my head why we’re not treating someone with more respect who comes to visit.” Dart sympathizes with the 1,000 or so daily visitors, who must pass through tight security for their 15-minute visit.

“These are decent people and we’re not treating them with a red carpet,” the sheriff said. “They’ve gone through hell enough as it is, lives turned upside down by a grandson or a nephew. These are grandparents coming in, aunts and uncles. They’ve done nothing wrong. How does it work for our office to treat people like trash?”

But he also sympathizes with his officers.

“Objectively, I challenge someone to find a more difficult job than being a correctional officer,” he said. “It’s a very, very difficult job. Can the public be unreasonable? Yes. Can the correctional officer? Yes. But we’ve tried to be much more customer-friendly.”

Two hours is a long time on buses, and Tarshis reminisces about his son, a Navy vet.

“I have so many memories of when he was little,” said Tarshis. “He was very intelligent, very responsible. He got A’s in all his subjects. He’s not a bad child, he’s sweet.”

His son, 36, has too many problems to summarize here. Suffice it to say this is his third time in jail, not for a grave crime — he didn’t kill anybody — and I’m not using his name to make it easier if he pulls himself together.

Tarshis and I join a long line outside the tall concertina wire-topped fence around the jail. The guards take us five at a time, ordering us to have our IDs ready, reminding us that we cannot bring in cell phones or pens.

Once, visitors were told to bury their contraband in the bushes outside. Now Dart has been installing vending machine lockers.

We go through metal detectors and are frisked by guards; their manner is severe but not rude and I get the impression that so long as you immediately do exactly what they say it goes smoothly, but that any hesitation or resistance might invite rougher treatment.

We give our names, wait more, then are ushered into a long room, 15 at a time, with stools bolted to the floor. Fifteen prisoners in sand-colored jail garb emerge on the other side of the Plexiglas. It’s loud and hard to hear. The jail used to use phones, but those were destroyed by angry inmates and visitors. Now there is a round red metal plate, the holes staggered to keep drinking straws filled with cocaine from being pushed through.

His son, gaunt, his head closely sheared, is all jangly intensity — I expected to watch him and his dad talk, but he wants to talk to me, a compressed stream of complaint and indignation about the jail. Next to us, a mother puts a toddler on the counter and the girl presses her hands flat against the glass.

That’s another issue Dart grapples with — there can be a child at one spot, a profanity-laced tirade at the next, and a woman holding up her shirt to flash her breasts at a third.

“There are loads of kids there,” said Dart, proud father of five kids. “And a strong part of me says that’s not a good environment for any child. I don’t want kids seeing this stuff. The other side is, if they’re connecting with their father, that’s a good thing, too. We can’t do it any other way because we have so many visitors, so many prisoners. You want to make it better. I’m struggling how to pull that off.”

Dart would like remote video visits, to save families the trip, but “there’s no money.”

The next court date for Neal Tarshis’s son is Nov. 2, which means one thing. “I get to make four more visits,” he said.


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Guards Work To Keep Contraband Out Of Jails

As this article shows, the effort to keep contraband, such as cell phones, out of prisons and jails is extensive.The irony is that there is little effort to address the demand side of the equation. As the article states, “visitation and phone privileges are the two things inmates fear losing more than anything else. They’re also the privileges corrections officers are most reluctant to take away, leery of eliminating what may be a prisoner’s main incentive to behave himself.” Prisons can offer a secure cell phone solution to reduce the demand for contraband cell phones and at the same time add another privilege that can be used to control behavior.

The visiting room at the Maryland Correctional Training Center bustles with activity.

Inmates and the people who’ve come to visit them sit separated by a high brick wall, catching up on the latest news from home or perhaps just enjoying seeing each other again.

Inmates are allowed two visits per week, as long as they behave, said Capt. Steven Myers as he stands along the side wall of the room.

Visitation and phone privileges are the two things inmates fear losing more than anything else, Myers said. They’re also the privileges corrections officers are most reluctant to take away, leery of eliminating what may be a prisoner’s main incentive to behave himself.

But the visits can also pose another problem for the prison’s staff.

The wall, built by inmates in the prison’s masonry program, keeps prisoners from switching shoes with a family member under a table, or the many other methods of sneaking contraband into the prison, Myers said.

Contraband consists of anything a prisoner isn’t allowed to have, with some of the most common items being cellular phones, tobacco products and drugs, said Erin Julius, a spokeswoman for the Division of Correction.

Prisoners enter from one side of the visiting room and wind their way around the brick wall to the chairs on their side. Visitors enter from the other side of the room and take a seat across from them.

The high wall between prisoners and visitors, built by inmates in the prison’s masonry program, cuts down on the flow of contraband, Myers said.

Touching is mostly forbidden during visits, with the exception of one quick embrace per person per visit.

The wall between them is so high that just their heads visible over it. Any hands reaching across to exchange items would likely stand out to the handful of corrections officers who carefully scan the room.

To make doubly sure, inmates are led into a small room after their visit and strip-searched for any illicit materials.

In another part of the prison, a specially designed chair can scan prisoners’ body cavities to check for contraband.

X-ray machines scan inmates’ belongings, and facilities have specially trained dogs that can sniff out cellular phones, Julius said.

Cell phones are a particular source of consternation for corrections officials.

According to a report from the state’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, Maryland prisons confiscated 1,128 cell phones in fiscal 2010.

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s office recently announced that the state had received a $350,000 federal grant to reduce the number of cell phones in Baltimore prisons.

The funds are targeted to increase staffing to crack down on gang members and other criminals who use cell phones to continue their criminal activity inside jails, and to ferret out prison staffers who help inmates get phones.

“Too many inmates are using contraband cell phones to harass witnesses and victims and orchestrate crimes behind prison walls, defying prison rules and law enforcement,” said U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., in a press release.


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Jail Visits Go Virtual

An interesting article about the use of video visitation in jail as a replacement for face-to-face visits. As in prisoner phone calls, the video visitation interaction is recorded. One of the benefits highlighted in the article is that it gives family members more time to visit. Visiting is now offered at the jail five days a week, not just the weekend. We believe giving prisoners secure cell phones will also expand the availability of family contact by providing more flexibility in when prison phone calls can take place.

For family and friends with a loved one behind bars that weekly jail house visit carries a lot of weight. But as cities and counties build new jails, video visits are replacing that face-to-face contact. They say it cuts down on labor and is safer. But inmates and their visitors often say something is missing with the new technology.

Modesta Lopez is dressed in silver high heels, a neat white blouse and black skirt to visit a video screen. The image of her boyfriend will be beamed from his cell block several hundred feet away. Lopez dressed up especially for him. She plans to do a turn for him before the video camera, but the full effect will surely be lost.

He’s been in jail for a few months. Until the new Cabarrus County jail was opened, Lopez was visiting her boyfriend at the old facility where visitation was face-to-face. It was a lot like in the movies. A plate of glass separated inmate and visitor with a phone to speak through.

“I was liking it because I was seeing his face more real. It’s not like watching him on a TV,” says Lopez.

But these video visits ease the burden on Sheriff’s offices. Hundreds of jails across the country have started using them, including ones in Iredell, Catawba and York counties. Mecklenburg County is not among them, at least yet. Video visitation is where the industry is headed because officials say it saves money on labor and logistics.

The system at Cabarrus County’s new jail cost about $500,000 dollars to install. So the Sheriff’s Office says financially it’s a wash. Chief Deputy Paul Hunt says it really comes down to security. Face-to-face visits often mean bringing inmates from one side of a jail to another.

“Whenever you move an inmate, that’s when you can have problems with somebody getting hurt, [if they] don’t want to go there. And you end up having a scuffle with somebody,” says Hunt.

Hunt also says video visits mean there’s less of a chance a family or friend will pass an inmate some kind of contraband.

Some visitors see advantages too. Barry Cook regularly checks in on his son. He prefers the new system because it gives him more time to visit.

“Before they had to process you and take a lot of information. It took you 45 minutes to get up there and see him for 15 minutes,” says Cook.

Cook always felt rushed visiting. Now since there’s no processing time he and his son have a lot more time to chat. Plus, visiting is now offered at the Cabarrus County jail five days a week, not just the weekend.

That brings up another advantage. Under the old face-to-face system, visitors would come to the jail all at once. It was noisy and sometimes inmates were double-booked, which could lead to some uncomfortable situations like girlfriends meeting their competition.

“It made me mad and I sat there through the visit and I left. And then when he called me I was like, “Yo, what was that?” recounts Gina Lattimore.

Her boyfriend’s in jail. At least under the old face-to-face system, she knew when other women would show up to see him. With video visits he could be two-timing her and she wouldn’t know since visitors have to sign up online. And that’s another thing that bothers her since she doesn’t have access to a computer.

Visitors to the jail sit at a table with short partitions for privacy. One man holds up a cell phone to the video screen to show some family pictures. A woman primps a bit, sitting on two chairs so the camera captures her whole face, not just the top half.

“No cursing. If you see that someone is talking loud, let us know,” a sheriff’s deputy instructs the group.

The deputy also monitors and records the video visits. Jails often record phone calls inmates make, but not visits made in person. Offering visits only by video makes it easier to record those too, which also increases the likelihood they’ll end up as evidence in a trial as they did with Casey Anthony in Florida.

Chief Deputy Paul Hunt says so far in Cabarrus County no recordings have been turned over to lawyers. He says they’re used mainly to alert police of something suspicious.

Still, the thought of her visits being recorded makes Modesta Lopez with the silver high heels uneasy.

“You cannot say stuff you’d like to tell him sometimes. But I do what I have to do,” says Lopez.

She holds back a bit and keeps to subjects like church and work. And even though, she gets more time this way, she still prefers talking to him face-to-face.


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Pigeons Fly Cell Phones To Brazilian Prisoners

The creativity of prisoners seeking contraband cell phones never disappoints. Perhaps if a secure prison cell phone service was available, these birds would not have been necessary!

Brazilian inmates have turned to carrier pigeons in their quest for communication with the outside world.

Guards have intercepted two carrier pigeons carrying mobile phones to detainees at a prison in Sorocaba, 62 miles from Sao Paolo, a spokesman for the state penitentiary system said.

“Penitentiary agents found the pigeons outside the Danilo Pinheiro prison but, fortunately, the birds did not have time to enter the prison building with the material,” said Rosana Alberto.

Each pigeon was carrying a small bag containing a mobile phone and charger, she said. The birds were caught on two successive days, last Wednesday and Thursday.

The use of pigeons to smuggle contraband into jail is the latest twist in a ongoing struggle by criminal networks to deliver forbidden goods into Brazil’s prisons.

Criminal organizations like “Red Commando” in Rio de Janeiro or the “First Commando of the Capital” in Sao Paulo, which are well established in the detention centres, have extensive supply networks.

In the past they have use accomplices, from lawyers to corrupt prison guards, to smuggle in drugs, weapons and mobile phones to the detainees, according to the police.

The goods are then traded or used to organise crimes from inside the jails.


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Cell Phones in Prison: A Former Inmate Explains the Real Deal

This article on prison cell phones discusses how, despite all the press on the nefarious uses of smuggled prison cell phones, the real driver of prison cell phone smuggling is the desire of inmates to stay in touch with family and friends.

A former long-serving federal inmate living in South Florida says the real reason for the proliferation of cell phones in prisons has more to do with privately owned institutions gouging inmates and their families with ridiculously overpriced phone time than it does organized crime.

The ex-con — who advocates for other political issues and asked that his name not be used here — points out that phone calls made legally from prison are expensive and short.

Though they are banned, cell phones are prevalent in prison, with authorities confiscating tens of thousands of smuggled phones every year, according to a recent New York Times article. Prisoners use the phones to help control the flow of drugs both in and out of prisons, to organize protests, to set up Facebook pages, and in some cases, to conduct interviews with the media. Mostly, though, they use the phones to stay in touch with family members on the outside.

“Toward to end of my time in, cell phones began to appear in large numbers,” says the local ex-con, who served more than two decades for nonviolent crimes. “The vast majority were used by inmates desperate to stay in touch with, and hold on to, their wives and children.”

The calls were so expensive, this inmate could afford only one or two short calls to his family a week.

“If my wife, child, or a close friend were ill, I would blow the month’s phone budget,” he says.

According to the Times story, many of the phones are simply tossed over prison walls, and the phone bills are paid for by families. Prisons across the country are struggling to figure out a way to block phone services within prisons without violating FCC regulations.

From the Times:

In Oklahoma, a convicted killer was caught in November posting photographs on his Facebook page of drugs, knives and alcohol that had been smuggled into his cell. In 2009, gang members in a Maryland prison were caught using their smartphones to approve targets for robberies and even to order seafood and cigars.

Even closely watched prisoners are sneaking phones in. Last month, California prison guards said they had found a flip phone under Charles Manson’s mattress.

The logical solution would be to keep all cellphones out of prison. But that is a war that is being lost, corrections officials say. Prisoners agree. “Almost everybody has a phone,” said Mike, 33, an inmate at Smith State Prison in Georgia who, like other prisoners interviewed for this article, asked that his full name not be used for fear of retaliation. “Almost every phone is a smartphone. Almost everybody with a smartphone has a Facebook.”

In this case, says the local ex-con, the real crime is the inflated cost of calls, which force concerned prisoners to opt for illicit forms of communication:

“The real cost of a call is pennies, but prisons make a huge profit from inmate phones. Most inmates can’t afford to stay in touch with family. That is the root cause of the cell phone problem in prisons.”

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