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Leonard: From the Nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and Gentlemen the topic for today, ‘Video visiting in corrections’.It’s an extraordinarily important topic. We have two experts by our microphones from the National Institute of Corrections, Maureen Beull. She joined the National Institute of Correction in 2001 as one of the correctional programme specialist and leads the NCI Justice Involved Women Initiative, assisting jails, prisons, and community correction in the development and implementation of evidence based gender informed policy. By our microphones from Brooklyn, Brooklyn is represented in the house today by Allison Holliham .She is a licensed mental health counselor and holds a masters degree in Urban policy analysis as a programme manager for New York initiative for children and incarcerated parents at the Osborne Association. She advocates for policies and practices that support children of incarcerated parents. She has a background in this issue of video visitation.
I am going to read from a report, a rather comprehensive report done by the national institute of correction and we going to talk about that report today. Research confirms that incarcerated individuals, corrections families, and communities all benefit when incarcerated individuals can communicate and receive visits, from family and supportive community members. Video visitation is an additional form of communication that can build and strengthen social support system for those incarcerated.To Allison and to Maureen welcome back to DC public safety.
MAUREEN: Thank you Leonard.
ALLISON: Thank you.
Leonard: Allison, I going to start off with you after that long introduction. What is video visitation?
ALLISON: Video visits very simply put, is very similar to Skype, it helps families remain connected to their incarcerated loved ones. It first was seen in the correctional setting in the 1990s and with technological advances it really resulted in a lot more user-friendly and affordable equipment. As a result its really expanded at a rapid pace in a correction setting, in fact recently there was a prison policy report that stated that the video visiting is being in over 500 facility across the Nation and we expect that it’s going to continue to expand .
Leonard: Maureen what is the interest in corrections in terms of video visiting?
MAUREEN: Pretty simply our role is working with our constituency, which is the jails, prisons and community corrections across the country. To improve outcomes and to reduce recidivism and some intermediate outcomes and certainly for those folks that are incarcerated maintaining contact with family, family broadly defined, community members, community services it’s really fundamental for people to get back on their feet.
Leonard: The bottom line question goes to either one of you. The bottom line is more contact people have with their families and significant others, important people in the community ,at least important to them. The more contact they have while in prison or in jail, the better off they are going to do upon release? Can I say that?
MAUREEN: I think you can say that, and I think one of the things we trying to achieve is well,for folks to … So we can really separate them from the criminals justice system and have them become part of the community.
Leonard: Part of the community means a lot of contact?… When I was in correction one of the thing that really amazed me is that whenever we had an opportunity, in the State of Merlin in the correctional system for people coming in visiting, complains went down in fractions, went down … It was a very peaceful prison people would do anything on the face of the earth not to interfere with that in-person contact. Does video visitation have the same impact?
ALLISON: You know Leonard, that a really good question because we don’t know, its such a new practice. There’s has been very limited research on whether or not video visiting or a combination with in-person visits would actually lead to or build upon a positive outcome.
Leonard: The name of document is called ‘Video Visiting in Correction, benefits, limitations, and implementations considerations’ from the National institute of Corrections. An extraordinary document, I mean anywhere from questionnaires to implementational policies to anything that you ever wanted about video visitation is in this document. I will put the link on the show notes in terms of the document. We have according to the document, 13 States that are doing video visitations? Is that correct?
ALLISON: Oh yes, I anticipate that at this point it’s probably more than that, because this document, the research was done approximately year and a half ago at this point so its surely more.
Leonard: Now 2.7 million people are in prisons and jails on any given day? That’s a huge number 2.7 lets think about that for a second. 2.7 million people in prisons and jails in any given day?
MAUREEN: That’s true.
Leonard: We have just as one example according to the report 14,000 children in foster care as a result of incarceration. That’s 14,000 people totally without any contact with their mom or with their dad at all. That is just one example of the potential of video visitations?
MAUREEN: Yes and I want to add to that, that on any given day their are 2.7 million children alone that have an incarcerated parent and when you add those that have are under some type of community supervision, it goes up to 10 million. This is a huge issue not only for an incarcerated individual and budgets but for children and for the next generation of children who are being cut off from their parents.
Leonard: But you did mention a study in a reported self, talking about reduction in recidivism based upon on the amount of contact that they had with in prison. Correct?
MAUREEN: Oh yes, absolutely. There was a recent study done by the Minnesota department of correction. It looked at 16,000 incarcerated individuals and looked at how visiting impacted their success and recidivism rates. They found that even one visit alone reduced recidivism rates. It really underscored and added to what we know about visiting, that it is important for incarcerated individuals to receive visits throughout the incarceration and not just right prior to reentry. To be able to support their success.
Leonard: Now with running institutions correctional facilities, and the 14 years that I was with Merlin Department of public safety in correctional services, we had three correctional systems. Those visits, contact with the outside world meant peaceful institutions. We not just talking about video visitation, we not talking about necessarily doing the right thing, we also talking about reducing cost, we also talking about improving security, we also talking about the possibility of reentry, we also talking about the possibility, even if this is not the focus of this report, Video based instruction. This is meaningful to many people for many reasons and that why I wanted to expand conceptually what it is we talking about.
MAUREEN: I think one of the things for NIC to have jumped into grading this document with Osborne Association, was that one of the things we are aware of is that we know how important in-persons visits are .We also know that there are some challenges for families to be able to travel to facilities, for getting there and finding out that a visit has been cancelled. I think that video visiting has come on the forefront but I think the thing that we really want folks to be aware of that are thinking of either adopting video visiting or enhancing what they have is to really know: what it offers, What it entails, what they are getting into, what the cost are, what the benefits are? Its not a panacea but I think that these guide really provides a lot of thoughtful questions and opportunities to really take a look at this. Does this fit for your system?
Leonard: It sure does, I mean the document is amazingly comprehensive; right down to the questionnaire down to the surveys, right down to the implementation policy. Its not just a discussion document on video visitation, if you want to consider doing this, if you want to do this, its all encapsulated within one document.
MAUREEN: Nicely said, thank you
Leonard: Do you like that?
MAUREEN: I do, thank you,
ALLISON: Thank you.
Leonard: Alright W.W.W …
ALLISON: And Leonard …
Leonard: Go ahead. let me get the website as long as I have intrigued people. WWW.nicic.gov is the website for the National Institute of Correction and you can find the document there it will be in our show note. Allison go ahead.
ALLISON: I wanted to add certainly there are a lot of benefits of using video visiting to kind of bridge the gap for families that are so far away that they cannot travel to the facility or maybe they are elderly and they can’t get to the facility. So they are a lot benefits, but there is also challenges for families. Some families do not have the money to have their own computer, they don’t have the technological savvy to be able to navigate signing up for an account. You know, I am just thinking about my grandmother who has trouble navigating how to turn the computer on, let alone using it to schedule time. There is the challenge with some video visits when they are home based there is a cost attached to that. So any money or savings that may have been incurred from not travelling to the facility maybe outweighed by the expensive cost and all the service fee that are attached to the home based video visiting. There is a lot of considerations that need to be looked at before moving forward.
Leonard: Well that’s the sole point because I have seen newspaper articles from throughout the country and here within Washington DC. That video visitation was put on by a private company that charged fees that people thought were to high. The person cannot afford to make the 300 mile trip between gas and tolls and spending the nights and taking all the family it’s a 200-300 dollar proposition but still video visitation maybe, 1/10 of that but it still something that they cannot afford. Isn’t that part of this discussion?
ALLISON: Yeah absolutely, to also consider that most of the places where video visiting is being implemented currently are at the county jail. When you looking at those families they are not travelling nearly as far as those that are gonna go visit a loved one in a prison in the State.
Leonard: Good point.
ALLISON: So their travel cost are significantly lower and in some cases the challenge is that the jails are actually requiring people to come to the jail. Visits at the facility in almost every case there is no charge for that. There is only a few jails that are still charging but still the family is going through the burden of getting to the facility. They get there and then they don’t actually see their loved one and that really matters for family and it matters a lot for children.
Leonard: Because we do want in-person wherever possible. In the District of Columbia if you commit a violation and your sent to prison even if though it’s a DC code violation where a federal agency. Those offenders are sent to federal prison they could be all through out the country if there is not video visitation then they are not going to get visits at all. So this issue,… I understand Allison your point about it it could be the local jail, but also at the same time that person could be 1000-3000 miles away.
MAUREEN: I think that’s one of the considerations in putting the guide together so that there’s so many different permutations. You may have folks that are more immediate to the facility, you may have the example you just gave Leonard but I think that a site that is thinking about adapting this really need to weigh those considerations. I think one of the things that is in the guide very interesting even talking to the folks that will be using a system like this whether or not video visiting actually is gonna be something that they use I think one of the other things that we are well aware of that is in the guide is there is a number of different of video visitings and I think Allison alluded to that earlier.
Leonard: Well Allison go ahead give me those types one more time cause I don’t remember.
ALLISON: Sure, there three basic models the one that was really kind of best practiced and can address a lot of challenges is the higher breed model. So you have in-person visiting and video visiting. It gives families the opportunities to choose what is best for them. Then there is the three actual different ways to use the equipment: You can have the facility based, which is where the video at the facility at some outside area so the family don’t have to go through the security and there set up in rows and [inaudible 00:13:30] and the family goes there and visit. They are usually free visits or at the very least one or two free visits per week and then additional visits they will need to pay for.
Then you have the model where the corrections will partner with a community based organisation, and there is a lot of advantages to that partnership because you then having families come to the community based organisation video visits from there. If you partnering with the organisation that provides services to the incarcerated while they are on the inside and upon their return and support to the families, then you are really able to get the families in early and do that continuum of holistic services and start working with that organisation to support the incarcerated individual reentry process.
Leonard: But the bottom line…
Leonard: Good … Am sorry go ahead
ALLISON: And the final model would be the home based, that is where people can video visit from their home based computers and in some cases their cell phones, or tablets, and those are most exclusively paid for a fee.
Leonard: But I mean that would be the holy grail? Would it not? the idea of having that level of contact. Because you have to have a security provision, am assuming in all this because abstentively the whole idea is to sit down a child and mother reuniting over the course of 5 or 600 miles through a home based system inevitably, there is gonna be somebody who is going to,… Instead of the child they substitute that child for a gang member, so there’s gonna be a some security component to this correct?
ALLISON: Well, there is a software that can monitor the visits. You can do live monitoring which certainly labor intensive. We have had concerns about there being, people being inappropriate during visits. for example in Oregon they have been using video visiting in their state for a length of couple of years now I believe. They found they have 0.15% incident rate so that in the grand scheme of things is so nominal that we are not really seeing that be a big concern.
Leonard: I do want to talk more about that in the experience of other states,but before we get into the second half: Maureen Buell form the National Institute of Correction. We have Alison Hollihan and she is with the Osborne Association. Let me give out the web address for the Osborne association, have it up close to see if I can read it correctly www.osborneny.org. For the National Institute of correction www.nicic.gov. The document itself its called ‘Video Visiting in corrections, benefits limitations and implementation considerations. It’s a completely comprehensive document NIC should be congratulated for doing it. So where do we take the conversation from here? You just mentioned one state and it was only 1.5% incidence of security violation Allison?
ALISON: It was Oregon Department of Correction then and it was actually 0.15 %.
Leonard: 0.15,okay so that’s pretty then going good?
ALISON: Yes, and you know with the software they can flag certain words, if certain words are said, they can automatically stop the feed. There is always [inaudible 00:16:58] concern that the person who supposed to be the visitor isn’t truly the visitor but in most cases its grandmas, and moms and children that want to have this visits with their loved ones so we really need to look the larger picture before jumping to the fear that these is going to just increase communication with the wrong people.
Leonard: Let me throw out a hypothetical that is not on anybody’s question sheet. If we handle level of contact… Work s philosophical for me a little bit Allison … If we had the level of contact instead of now a mother ,father, or a brother or a significant community member, instead of the once a year trip to a prison two or three hundred miles away. If they were in touch with this individual almost everyday from say the comfort of their own home through a computer where that information can be exchanged about: When you coming back ,what are you bringing something to wear, where you going to live and having this discussions flashed out before hand. Where are you looking for work? are you gonna go back to school? What difference would that make Allison?
ALISON: A tremendous difference ,I want to speak to the importance of children, just because that is my area of specialty. When we run a programme here at the Osborne association to come to our office they come to a child friendly setting. Its setup like a living-room, they connect with their parents, who are in an Upstate prison 10 hours away so just had to use this as an example. This children may visit maybe once a year, cause its a 10 hour trip and now that they come in for monthly, sometime s a couple of times a month visits they do tele-visits. They are able to do their home-works in the visits, they are able to show their mom their spelling words, their math problems on a chalk boards ,they have the same books here as the moms have in the facility so they can read together. And these are experiences that you can’t have on the phone. The parent can’t see the child stand in front of a measuring stick and see how they growing from visit to visit.
We find it so critical, because then the children are able to make sense of their world. They are able to have the additional support that is so valuable for them. They are able to physically see that the parent is safe and doing well. Then they are able to go and visit once twice and hopefully more to have the important in person visits. so that’s very critical for children.
ALISON: You know Alison as you talking I was just thinking of an example you were telling me about. That is when a child a small child 3-4 yr old child, gets on a telephone and is just holding a telephone and really doesn’t have any kind of a face in front of that child. There is really no conversation. The beauty I think of systems who do have video visiting is that they see the person, they see the parent. I think that something we don’t think about in the current systems we have.
MAUREEN: Yeah absolutely.
Leonard: I do want to put to our listeners that my agency, the court services, and the offender supervision agency is a pioneer in-terms of video visitations. We do quarterly ,and it’s an all day affair and we have a network of prisons throughout the federal Bureau of prisons. That participate in this a community of resources day where we bring in people from all through out the community in terms of alcohol, substance abuse, housing, jobs you do name it. We do this all day seminar, and that’s recorded. We have been involved in the issue of video and communication within correctional facilities for a long time. We also are piloting an experimental programme where we do hookup female offenders in prison with their children from the District of Columbia but that is in its earlier stages but that is what we are doing. What is the future either one of you in terms of video visitation?
MAUREEN: You know one thing that just occurs to me is, … I have been doing criminal justice work for sometime, one of the things that I think am well aware of is that, historically our focus has been just on the individual, the individual that is incarcerated. I think with the emerging research and the best practices one of the things we’ve realized is that for people to be successful, they have got to have these connections. I mean it works for us in the free world why should it be any different for an offender that is within the criminal justice system . I think that if folks become pretty knowledgeable about how critical it is to maintain and build those healthy connection, I think that pairing in person visitation with technology such as video visitation I think the opportunities I think its unlimited.
Leonard: They are unlimited. I did a television show on family reunification, I hosted the show and one of the things that is really profound is all the kids that are left behind, they feel abandoned. We know from research that they have higher degrees of problems in terms of substance abuse, in terms of involvement with the criminal justice systems. But they are 8,9,10 years old. They didn’t ask for this? So they feel completely abandoned, completely separated, from their incarcerated parent. At least in this case not looking at security, not looking at safety, not looking at recidivism, not looking at the benefits to the criminal justice systems but in terms of looking at the benefits to the kids it would probably be enormous.
ALLISON: Absolutely, we do know from some research, and definitely from observation that we have here through our programmes that connect children with their incarcerated parents. Visiting really minimizes the trauma, while increasing the support for children. It allows children to have very important conversations about, why are you there? when are you coming home? It helps through healing and we find that the children that are able to maintain the connection with their incarcerated parents. Children who have appropriate support in the community they go on to thrive and do wonderful its only a small percentage of these children with incarcerated parents do go on to have these challenges that you mention and its a really real concern but we have an opportunity here to support this children so that they can go on to have bright and healthy futures.
Leonard: But its interesting that the conversation that nobody has. The kids caught up in all of this nobody seems to focus on them at all. They do feel completely left alone, they feel completely ignored and this would be a way of looking at that. Where do we go to for the future? For video visiting? I mean is this going to be something that you would want to expand through out the entire country? Are we going to start using tablets? Start using home computers? Are the correctional systems going to be more accepting of this? Map out the next five years either one of you?
ALLISON: Yeah I believe that it is inevitably going to be in every facility at some point. The question is it going to be implemented in a thoughtful way that balances the need for correction and families or is it going to be driven by companies out there that are trying to make money by charging for the visits and putting big service fees on the families which will be in the end counter productive right? Because we going to have families that used to be able to go for free visits at the county jail, that now are not able to visit as often because of the fees.
I think that if its done in a thoughtful way, it could increase the connections for family and I think its going to be a great benefit to the re-entry planning process. We didn’t speak much about that, but to think about being able to bring families into a case management conference with the incarcerated conference with the incarcerated individual prior to release to determine how they can be of support. Think about the transitional housing director who can come to a facility or community organisation and have an interview with someone who is incarcerated 5 hrs away from the area to where they are returning to, and the have that with the housing resource ready for them before they are released. You can have job interviews, you could have interviews with treatment providers.I mean the possibilities are endless.
Leonard: Well that is just it the possibilities are endless and we just barely scratching the surface in terms of the possibilities. Everything you have just mentioned could be, should be on the table. Now my question is and anybody listening to the program is going to be … If that degree of importance, if it’s at that level of importance we have not even discussed the medical angle, to this and where these could really cut costs through states by millions of dollars in terms of video consultations on medical issues. Then why do we have to rely upon private providers at all? Why doesn’t government simply pick this up if it’s so important to so many people for so many reasons?
ALLISON: Well thinking from the importance of in-persons vist’s just for visits. Think about the importance of a doctor or a nurse doing triage to be able to physically see and touch that person. I think that there’s definitely room for having consultations or simple follow ups but it can never replace the importance of the medical community to be able to interact with a person.
Leonard: But my question is more along the lines of the fees that are being charged the fees of private company’s’,or some people who are objecting to the fees. They say that they are too high if it is as important as we making it to be, why wouldn’t the government pick up the cost,[inaudible 00:27:06] eliminate the fees entirely? That sounds unrealistic in today’s budget cutting era?
MAUREEN: That’s a hard question, I mean it’s hard because you know, am just looking at sort of the environment that we are living in today in terms of politics and budgets and all sorts of things. I think what we really were interested in is having both criminal justice systems and users of systems like this, just to be thoughtful of consumers and to really know what the potential and the possibilities are but really know the right questions and the right things to consider.
Leonard: And that’s exactly what the document does?
MAUREEN: That’s what we hoped for?
Leonard: (Laughs)… Very comprehensive. Alison did you want to have a quick followup we just about out of time.
ALLISON: I think that the main take away here, is that we should never look at video replacing in-person activity, no matter what it maybe from visiting to tele-medicine. We need to be thoughtful about making sure that the fees associated are not counterproductive and just reducing the ability for the incarcerated to maintain their connection with their family.
Leonard: Some people are exuberant about this possibility. They suggest that it could really fix a lot of the problem within correction so they would be even more enthusiastic than you. Maureen final comments?
MAUREEN: Well I think that’s why we called the document Benefits ,limitations and implementations considerations.
Leonard: Just to cover all bases…
MAUREEN: You got it.
Leonard: (Laughs)Ladies and gentlemen, we are doing a show today…we doing a show today on Video visitation in the correction setting. Our guest today has been Maureen Buell from the National Institute of Correction and Allison Hollihan. She is with the Osborne association. The document itself as Maureen just said ‘Video Visiting in corrections, benefits, limitations, implementations considerations, www.nicic.gov.This programme was produced today by [inaudible 00:29:16] and we always appreciate her production assistance in-terms of putting this together. The inner website for the Osborne Association Allison Hollihan organisation www.osborneny.org.
Ladies and gentlemen this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments and we even appreciate your criticism and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.