Explorations in Inmate-Family Relationships

EXPLORATIONS IN INMATE-FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS

Norman Holt
Associate Social Research Analyst
Southern Conservation Center

Donald Miller
Associate Social Research Analyst
Los Angeles Research Unit

Research Division
California Department of Corrections
Sacramento, California
January 1972

Table of Contents

SUMMARY

CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTION

CHAPTER II. MARITAL RELATIONSHIPS OF CALIFORNIA PRISONERS

CHAPTER III. PATTERNS OF INMATE CONTACT WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS

CHAPTER IV. THE EFFECTS OF IMPRISONMENT ON THE INMATE’S FAMILY AND SOCIAL TIES

CHAPTER V. THE EFFECTS OF FAMILY AND SOCIAL TIES
ON THE INMATE’S BEHAVIOR IN PRISON

CHAPTER VI. INMATE SOCIAL TIES AND PAROLE OUTCOME

CHAPTER VII. INMATE ATTITUDES TOWARD FAMILY VISITING AND
TEMPORARY RELEASE AND THE PAROLE OUTCOME OF PARTICIPANTS

CHAPTER VIII. THE INMATE AND HIS FAMILY: SOME CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS

SUMMARY

Some Conclusions and Implications

The central finding of this research is the strong and consistent positive relationship that exists between parole success and maintaining strong family ties while in prison. 

Only 50 percent of the “no contact” inmates completed their first year on parole without being arrested, while 70 percent of those with three visitors were “arrest free” during this period. In addition, the “loners” were six times more likely to wind up back in prison during the first year (12 percent returned compared to 2 percent for those with three or more visitors).

For all Base Expectancy levels, we found that those who maintained closer ties performed more satisfactorily on parole.

This suggests that it might be well to view the inmate’s family as the prime treatment agent and family contacts as a major correctional technique. This approach has numerous advantages not the least of which is that it’s free. It wouldn’t require the specially trained staff or costly staff augmentations so common to most treatment approaches.

A second major advantage is the built-in inmate motivation. Most treatment techniques have limited value because the inmates most in need are also the least motivated for treatment. Motivation for visits is consistently high.

There are two areas in which changes might increase correctional effectiveness through promoting strong family ties. First, there are several ways in which special programs could become more effective. Most extensive use should be made of temporary releases. Their potential seems almost unlimited. Temporary releases should be used as pre-release preparation throughout the entire period of incarceration. Home leaves beginning a few months after reception would go a long way toward promoting strong family ties. Home visit privileges should be extended to a few non-violent, married prisoners in low risk categories on an experimental basis and slowly be granted to other groups.

The Family Visit Program should be reserved strictly for those inmates who cannot make use of temporary releases. These would probably include such cases as chronic parole absconders, perpetrators of very violent crimes such as murder, or inmates who need to work out marital problems in a more structured setting than is provided by the home. Since common-law marriages are increasing in prevalence, those of some duration should be recognized in both programs.

Family counseling should be utilized more with each institution required to have at least one person as a State-certified family counselor who would be designated as the coordinator for the program.

The second area concerns routine institutional procedures. The further visitors have to travel and the more difficult the procedures, the more likely are the visitors to reduce contacts as the sentence is served. Thus, every effort must be made to place the inmate in the institution closest to his home in order to facilitate family contacts. This research has shown the high cost in terms of parole failure of interfering with important social ties. Correctional systems can no longer afford to incarcerate inmates in areas so remote from their home communities as to make visiting virtually impossible. Proximity to the inmate’s home should be the first consideration in making assignments to institutions.

All correctional institutions in California, like most institutions throughout the world, make arrangements for inmates to visit and correspond with their family and friends. Although such arrangements have existed since the beginning of prisons in this state, little systematic information is available about the nature and consequences of these outside contacts. This research project was undertaken as an exploratory study of the effects of these contacts on the inmate in prison and later on parole. The data for this study were obtained from inmate files at the Southern Conservation Center. The question was also raised of the effects of the Family Visiting and Temporary Release Program at the California Correctional Institution.

Some general information on marital status and patterns of outside contact is presented in the report as an introduction to the discussion of the influence of these contacts on the individual as inmate and as parolee.

Summary of Findings

Prisoners are less likely to be married than the average male.

Patterns of outside contacts reflect the differences in family structure of different ethnic groups.

In general, contacts with family and friends do not necessarily decrease as the time is served. Marital ties are an exception, however.

Contacts with legally married wives of first term inmates grew fewer through the second year, suggesting that the marital relationship erodes as the years in prison pass.

Given what appears to be a major deterioration of marriages after the first and second year of prison (about one-fourth fewer of the wives were still visiting after three or more years), it is surprising that a hard core of wives continues the same level of contacts through four years plus and on into the second or third prison term.

Frequent visits don’t seem to improve the inmate’s institutional behavior but do lead to better parole plans and a better chance of being paroled.

Inmates who maintained frequent outside contacts while in prison did significantly better on parole,

A twelve-month parole follow-up study of 412 men paroled from the Southern Conservation Center in 1968-69 revealed that men with more people visiting them during their last 12 months in prison experienced significantly less difficulty and less serious difficulty in their first year of parole than did those with fewer visitors.

Men who had more people visiting them in prison experienced fewer difficulties on parole regardless of Base Expectancy Score. However, in the lower score range (00-32), the difference was small, and the Base Expectancy measure seemed more predictive of outcome for those with more numerous visitors.

Family Visiting and the Temporary Release Programs were strongly supported by the inmate body with no hint of negative reactions from those who couldn’t participate.

All restrictions on visitors and mail should be closely scrutinized with an eye to eliminating all regulations whose purpose is other than protecting the absolute basic security of the institution. No restriction should be allowed to remain the only reason for which is the lack of space. Space must be found. The effectiveness of family contacts is such that very high priority should be given to finding space that may be utilized to increase the frequency of family contacts.