Oregon promotes prison visits to combat recidivism

PORTLAND, Ore. — When they read a study that suggested inmates who were visited by their families while in prison were significantly less likely to return to prison, officials in the Oregon Department of Corrections crunched their numbers and found about 60 percent of the state’s inmates never received a visitor.

That led to a push that began two years ago to increase the number of visitors, including putting video conferencing stations at most prisons.

There’s no data yet on recidivism, but the number of inmates who get visits now stands at 60 percent, The Oregonian reported.

The 2011 study, which came from the Minnesota Department of Corrections, concluded “visitation significantly decreased the risk of recidivism.”

It said that “visits from siblings, in-laws, fathers and clergy were the most beneficial in reducing the risk of recidivism, whereas visits from ex-spouses significantly increased the risk.”

Departmental spokeswoman Betty Bernt said a working group was set up across the state, and officials began asking themselves questions such as: How much of the poor visitation rate was their fault? What were their policies on keeping nuclear families together? What about their policy of not allowing people with criminal backgrounds to visit?

They’re now surveying a large segment of the 14,000 prisoners about what might help in transitioning to life outside the prison.

Corrections officials also considered setting up prisoners with trained volunteer mentors and relaxing visitation rules for inmates who are in disciplinary housing units.

They have increased visiting hours and special events. Salem’s Santiam Correctional Institution, for instance, began Thursday visiting hours earlier this year designed for inmates to spend time with their children.

“Other ideas for possible future events include a movie and popcorn night, ice cream social night, craft night and so on,” the Department of Corrections Facebook page announced a few months ago.

Corrections officials also rolled out an email system that allows inmates with MP3 players to send and receive email.

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Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

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