Video calls in prisons: current needs and challenges after the pandemic
The importance of maintaining the social ties of prisoners is well documented, and it is now common to say that the rehabilitation and social reintegration of prisoners tend to be that much more successful the more opportunities they have to strengthen their connection with their loved ones and society outside (Hirschi, 1969).
It is also proven that recidivism is less probable for those imprisoned offenders who maintain and strengthen their social bonds (Hepburn & Griffin, 2004; O’Connell, 2003; Piquero, 2003; Tripodi, 2010; Uggen, 2000), and that’s mainly because social bonds are an essential factor in behavioural reform (Bersani, Laub, & Nieuwbeerta, 2009; Laub & Sampson, 2003; Sampson and Laub, 1993).
At the same time, we also know, and it stands to reason, that the social peace in prison environments – both among the prison population and between inmates and prison staff – also largely depends on the degree of satisfaction with the quantity and quality of social contacts that prisoners are allowed with their loved ones.
Now, in the historically challenging times brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot fail to consider the substantial and highly harmful implications that the suspension of face-to-face visits had on incarcerated populations around the world.
We are talking about millions of individuals whose confinement was taken to the extreme, given the need to protect public health. This has had severe repercussions inside and outside prisons, both for prisoners and their families or social networks, because it is known that separation from family and friends is one of the most challenging features of prison life to endure (Bales & Mears, 2008; Ross & Richards, 2009; Mignon & Ransford, 2012).
Furthermore, there were undoubtedly repercussions in the control hierarchy of the prison administration, which prison officers are the face of. We cannot overlook the many prison riots that happened globally when the new coronavirus spread in March-April 2020. And it is likely that such instability was caused mainly by hyperisolation – as Dr. Zeveleva (2020) names it – resulting not only but also from the visitation bans imposed in prisons.
The harmful effects mentioned above certainly did not happen in those prisons that were able and had the discernment to overcome the inevitable restrictions imposed by the pandemic crisis with a video visiting system.
Video calls are more than just an alternative in times of pandemic. They clearly are a reliable, practical, safe and secure form of communication, invested with the technological niceties that the current needs have sharpened.
Of course, we are not talking about temporary improvised solutions based on everyday messaging/calling applications. These are not a long-term sustainable solution, capable of responding to the operational and security needs and challenges of prison institutions, nor the inmates’ privacy needs, let alone the monitoring and scrutiny fundamentals that must meet the high standards of law enforcement agencies in any democratic rule of law.
A robust video call solution in prisons can only provide benefits in all segments: inmates maintain emotional health and social ties; for relatives, it is practical and easy to integrate into daily life; prison officers work in a more peaceful environment, and society will ultimately reap good rewards, from the outset, by reducing recidivism and all costs associated with crime and reoffending.
Bales, W. D., & Mears, D. P. (2008). Inmate Social Ties and the Transition to Society. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 45.
Bersani, B., Laub, J., & Nieuwbeerta, P. (2009). Marriage and desistance from crime in the Netherlands: Do gender and socio-historical context matter? Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 25.
Hepburn, J., & Griffin, M. (2004). The effect of social bonds on successful adjustment to probation: An event history analysis. Criminal Justice Review, 29.
Hirschi, T. (1969). Causes of delinquency. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Laub, J., & Sampson, R. (2003). Shared beginnings, divergent lives: Delinquent boys to age 7. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Mignon, S. I., & Ransford, P. (2012). Mothers in Prison: Maintaining Connections with Children. Social Work in Public Health, 27(1–2).
O’Connell, D. J. (2003). Investigating latent trait and life course theories as predictors of recidivism among an offender sample. Journal of Criminal Justice, 31.
Piquero, N. (2003). A recidivism analysis of Maryland’s community probation program. Journal of Criminal Justice, 31.
Ross, J. I., & Richards, S. C. (2009). Beyond Bars: Rejoining Society After Prison. New York: Alpha Books.
Sampson, R., & Laub, J. (1993). Crime in the making: Pathways and turning points through life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Tripodi, S. (2010). The influence of social bonds on recidivism: A study of Texas male prisoners. Victims & Offenders, 5.
Uggen, C. (2000). Work as a turning point in the life course of criminals: A duration model of age, employment, and recidivism. American Sociological Review, 65.
As a Chief Business Officer, Dave Lageweg supports TELIO in its mission not only as a communications company but also as an essential digitalisation partner in the global correctional sector, with solutions from video calls/visits to digital services with self-service kiosks and tablets, to cell phone detection and jamming, to voice communications. Dave’s career began more than two decades ago with the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security, and he has always been actively involved in supporting governments through technology. He has a degree in Information and Communication Technology from the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.