Studies Laud Inmate Visitation, But Houston Jail Makes It Difficult


For years, visits have been a frustrating experience at the Houston’s Harris County Jail, where policies are among the most restrictive of the state’s five largest county jails, reports the Houston Chronicle. While Harris County’s jail system is the largest in Texas, with a population of 8,700, it has lagged in adopting technology to improve visitation that other counties have embraced, including video visitation for inmates. “I have to take three buses to get over here to see my husband, and they give me 15 minutes and I can’t hear half of what he says,” said one inmate’s wife. While some regard liberal visitation policies as coddling criminals and say they allow for contraband to enter a correctional facility, studies have concluded that visitation benefits society by keeping inmates from resuming a life of crime when they are released.

In 2011, the Minnesota Department of Corrections published an exhaustive study concluding that “prison visitation can significantly improve the transition offenders make from the institution to the community.” The study noted that any visit reduced, by 13 percent, the risk of a new felony conviction and dropped by 25 percent the risk of violating release conditions. Visits from clergy, fathers, brothers and sisters and in-laws were the most beneficial to the inmate’s future conduct after release. Houston’s jail visitation days were cut in 2011 from seven to four, a move the sheriff said would save $1.3 million annually in overtime pay for detention officers as the county faced a budgetary crisis. Asked why the visitation was not restored as county finances improved, Director of Public Affairs Alan Bernstein said there have been no recent complaints from the public.

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