According to the Sentencing Project 2.6 million American children have a parent behind bars. The Sentencing Project tells us that this translates to one in thirty-three children in the U.S. Visiting a parent can help both parent and child bond. Maintaining a strong connection with family members, which visits can provide, can play a crucial role in an inmate’s successful reentry.
More and more prisons are using video visits to replace face-to-face visits in an effort to lower correctional costs and stem the flow of contraband from coming into a correctional facility. Staff shortages also come into play, as video visiting does not need as many correctional officers to man the cameras, as it does to patrol the visiting area, shake down or strip search inmates before and after a visit and escort the inmate to and from a cell and the visiting room. Some prisons boast that video visiting is a money maker for the facility because a charge for this “service” must be paid by the inmate or visitor.
There are some drawbacks to thinking that video-visiting is the best answer, For one thing, it is not only visitors that bring in contraband. Correctional officers do, too. Google the subject and pages of articles on correctional offers arrested for transporting contraband items into a prison or jail for use by inmates can be found.
Another reason that video-visiting is not the best idea is that it places an artificial barrier between a child and an inmate-parent. Being able to get a hug and kiss from mom or dad is an important part of a child’s upbringing. Seeing a parent in the flesh is certainly better for the child than seeing a parent behind a television screen. Being able to touch, and be touched by, a parent is one of the most important instruments of bonding.
And yet, there is another side to that argument.
In a new Sentencing Project report, Video Visits for Children Whose Parents are Incarcerated: In Whose Best Interest?, Dr. Susan D. Phillips discusses why video visitation may be the solution for many children of inmates who are not able to visit their parent in person because of the distance, travel expenses, and the need for an adult to take them to visit. For these children, video visiting may be the only way to connect with an incarcerated parent.
Dr. Phillips, however, sees the move to allow only video visits as not beneficial to children. In order to benefit a child, Dr. Phillips asserts in her report that a video visit is acceptable, if:
It is used as an adjunct to, rather than a replacement for, other modes of communication, particularly contact visits
Children can visit from their homes or nearby sites
Facility policies allow for frequent visits
Fees are not cost prohibitive