Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Why not make visiting prisoners easier?

English teacher John Crisp from Del Mar College in Corpus Christi recounts a recent trip to a South Texas prison to visit a young man who'd violated his probation on a marijuana charge. While he respected the need for rules and restrictions, he said, "I wonder if visitors aren't worked over with a little more attitude than is called for?" Read Crisp's account of the visit, which tracks pretty closely with my own experience, then somebody please tell me the answer to this teacher's central question:
why not make visiting easy, rather than difficult, since lack of interested human contact is already a significant contributor to many prisoners' incarcerations?
This isn't some bleeding heart concern; facilitating family visits for prisoners significantly helps reduce future crime and improves inmate behavior while they're incarcerated. The New York Times reported today that "Several recidivism studies have found that convicts who keep in touch with family members through visits and phone privileges are less likely to violate their parole or commit new offenses."

Why discourage such contact when logic and evidence tells us family visits help reduce recidivism and improve public safety?

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

In response to Mr. Crisp's questions:

1.If TDCJ had sufficient staff, visitation procedures would appear to be quicker, not easier. You didn't state what prison you visited however 1,000 bed units are medium security. Security of the institution is the primary duty of the officers. If the unit is short staffed the officers are not getting their time off. Also the staffing plan of the units allow (by staffing rules) visitation to be cancelled with an officer shortage. Of course the Administrators of TDCJ could not stand the heat if visitation was cancelled. The unwritten rule is to short staff other required positions to staff visitation. Now you know why you met such happy officers working visitation. I could write volumes on how to correct visitation problems but I will move on to your next question.

2. The classification system, coupled with TDCJ units available, does not allow a "first time offender" to be placed in a unit with only other
'first time offenders". He is in prison because he violated the law at least twice and was caught! Remember he was given probation and informed of the sanctions if he violated the terms of probation.

3. I have not met any millioniares incarcerated in a Texas State prison. The "haves" go to Federal prison camps or receive probation(It has always amazed me how ther feds step in and assume jurisdiction in one case and do not want anything to do with another case with the same elements involved, only different players); the "have nots" go to state facilities.

I have observed many injustices in my 42 year criminal justice career and I cannot remember any wealthy/connected person being the victim of these "injustices". I wish I could say the same about the people on the other end of the continuum.

Retired 2004

Pug said...

In general, it seems the prisons treat family members very poorly. The officers often have attitudes and prison officials often incarcerate inmates very far from home. This is due to prisons being treated as economic development for remote rural areas.

I guess it's all part of being in prison, but the families should be treated courteously. After all, they have comitted no crime.

Anonymous said...

I visit at TDCJ prison and have found the staff trying to intimidate me as often as not.

I feel sure they view their job as: "find a reason, any reason to deny this visit".

When I do not respond with fear, assert my knowledge of the rules and if necessary ask to speak to their supervisor, their attitude improves dramatically. Supervisors also attempt to intimidate me. I have found that they generally will listen and make a fair decision.

One thing I don't get is the dress code. Texas is hot in the summer, men wear shorts and women wear tank tops all the time. Why can't the dress code accommodate the heat?

Stephanie said...

In the 17 years I've been involved with the system, I've had good and bad visits. But I know after travelling 12 hours by car to see my husband, once I got there they allowed our special visit with extra time but no contact! He had no cases, he had been in no trouble. They let him come out and as we were about to hug sent him in. He filed a grievance and heard nothing.
And that was one of the few places where they were actually somewhat friendly to me! I try to be courteous and follow the rules but there is no reason for them to treat people the way they do or try to make it so hard on the families. We have a hard enough time holding it down while our loved ones are in prison and kept away from us.

Anonymous said...

anon @ 12.13

You can't think of one reason why the visitation rules prohibit female visitors from wearing tank tops and shorts? Unbelievable!

outlawsprincess said...

The reason they try to make it harder is, in my opinion, if they give you a hard time you won't go back and then they don;t have to do their job and "deal with the family" I go to see my hubby when my work permits. One time i went and no problems. I wear his wedding ring on my necklace and the guards saw it not one word was said. The next time i went the guards saw it (same guards) and they told me " whos' ring is that?" i responded "my husbands'" they responded" I want to see that ring on you necklace when you leave here" So i go to my visit and come back out to leave. The same guards are there. NOt once did they ask me to show them the ring on my necklace. The same guard 3 weeks later, let 3 different paople in to visitation with cell phones. He just did the wand over them and they got thru. The guard at the visitation room found them and sent them back to the main gate. This guard has got to be at least 65 to 70 years old. So different units have different rules that they enforce and rules that they let slide. One unit you can't wear open-toed shoes. next unit you can. No wonder TDCJ is in such a god-awful mess and they let out sex offenders and won't let out DWI's or even get them in a progam.

Anonymous said...

After my visits I usually spend the 500 mile drive back home wondering why TDCJ staff feels it's necessary to make offender's families feel punished. I visited the Smith unit over the weekend and during my visit I witnessed one guard taunting a husband and wife during their non-contact visit and then "accidentally" switching off the phones. Unfortunately, visitation is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many things I don't understand about the TDCJ.

sunray's wench said...

Maybe it's because I'm a foreigner (English) and I stand out anyway at my hubby's unit, or maybe it's because I am polite when I contact the unit or visit, but I've never had any problems while visiting.

The dress code is confusing, and while I do understand the reasons for all the rules, a lot of them are obviously knee-jerk reactions that weren't thought through porperly before implemented. It would be useful if all units followed the same rules too, not have everything down to the Warden's discretion, especially when the Warden refuses to communicate with anyone from the outside asking questions.

The staff at my hubby's unit are almost always civil to me, even if they do it with a scowl on thier face. But I figure that as I'm only there for a few hours every few months, whatever it is that's pissing them off is very unlikely to have anything to do with me.

It would be useful if a working group could be set up to look at things like visitation rules for families, with the power to draft and implement rule changes across the board. It would also be good to see the Supervisors and Wardens present at visitation sometimes (some do this already, I know), and to have the Family Liaison Officer in a visible place so that you dont have to ask several people once you get out of the visit room.

There are so many other ways of making visits less stressful for families that other states use without major security problems, there really is no reason for TDCJ to be so draconian. My hubby has a trusty line class status, yet because of the unit he is in, he gets few trusty priviledges. It hardly seems like an incentive.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 8:37pm, read more carefully please. Men should be allowed to wear shorts. As far as I can tell, tank tops are defined as anything without sleeves and buttons.

I'm 62 years old and cannot wear a sleeveless cotton T-shirt with a thin long sleeved silk shirt over it. Just foolishness on the part of guards. And don't tell me (well, if they let you do it, then they have to let the cute 18 year old do it) a rule is a rule, even an 18 year old would look decent and dress this way because it is 110 degrees outside.

Sunray, just as an FYI, TDCJ is "promoting" offenders to trusty status just before they intend to release them on parole. The reason for this is to make the BPP statistics for release of trusties look better. BPP has been accused of denying parole to trusty's so they have plenty of workers that can go outside of the fence. This could be good news for your guy or not. Who knows, could be they just need more workers.

This strategy shows pretty clearly that TDCJ and not the BPP are the ones that decide who gets parole.
The BPP just rubber stamps the TDCJ recommendations. This also explains the "over crowding by design" of TDCJ.

One thing is for sure, it is all about keeping the workers and spending power of an enormous budget and nothing to do with public safety.

sunray's wench said...

anon @ 12.04 ~ re: trusty promotions, my hubby is 17 years away from his first parole chance, so I dont think he falls into that catagory just yet, but I do agree with what you are saying.

Anonymous said...

I visit my girlfriend on a regular basis. I come from PA. I've never been denied a visit, but the CO's are rude and the rules are definitely arbitrary. I used to live in Fort Worth. Moving to PA, away from Texas is the best thing I ever did. My girlfriend is looking forward to the opportunity to see Texas in the rear view mirror as soon as possible.

Anonymous said...

After reading Mr. Crisp's posts I suspect he was visiting the Stevenson Unit. Which is irrelevent really because all staff should be courteous to all visitors and friends of offenders.
Rules of visitation are printed in a rule book and can be found on the TDC website but what people aren't aware of is that administration, ie; warden, asst. warden, majors and capts, while they alone cannot change policy they can ADD to it. Making it more difficult for family and friends to follow any rules correctly.
Visitors should be dressed appropriately when visiting a prison. These are grown men with grown up needs and looking at the person they love, scantily clad, will jeopardize the safety and security of the staff. HOW? Well, the inmate will go back to his dorm with a woody from hell nad want to relieve himself, possibly in the presence of female staff, or another offender, who might find this as disrespectful and violence can occur. And, not to mention sexual misconduct is a violation and on some units is regarded as a major case.
But that doesn't excuse rude staff.
I have been with agency more than 10 years now and have met some really interesting people. The family members of some, I say some, inmates are just as bad if not worse then the offender himself. They bring in drugs, money, alchol, try to figure out a way to have sex on the facility, women exposing themselves to the offender while children are present. The wife of an offender and the girlfriend of the offender visiting AT THE SAME TIME. It's not a pretty picture.
Visitation is a priviledge and offenders and family members should be aware that it can be taken away. Visitors should also beware that their behavior during a visit can be result in their name being removed from the list and their visit can be terminated.
All in all family members need to realize that visiting a loved one is not easy. Life is not easy, otherwise there would be no prisons. Follow the rules to the best of you ability. Wear what your suposed the wear and don't take anything in other than the $10.00 in coins that you're allowed. Don't try to swallow your man's tongue when you get there and keep your children close by and in control. We do have child molestors with family too. And when someone in gray is rude just kill them with kindness and tell them " God bless you and your family" they will remember you next time and maybe not be such prick.