Mass. Bill Pushes Back Against Implementation of Video Only Prison Visits

Maintaining contact with family is important to the wellbeing of people who are incarcerated, and a bill in Massachusetts’ state legislature would ensure that in-person visits are protected.

The visitation provision is part of a much larger criminal justice reform bill. According to Lucius Couloute, policy analyst with the Prison Policy Initiative, some sheriffs’ departments around the country have eliminated in-person visiting in favor of video systems that can turn a profit, which makes provisions like this necessary.

“They prevent this sort of industry from preying on really exploitable, incarcerated people and their loved ones,” said Couloute. “And it also insures that people are able to keep those strong bonds intact.”

The bill, S-2371, would prevent correctional institutions and jails from unreasonably limiting eligible inmates to fewer than two opportunities for in-person visits per week.

Coloute points out that being incarcerated is incredibly stressful, both for those in jail and their loved ones. He notes that in-person visits, especially with family and children, are an important part of the rehabilitation process.

“Providing visitation actually improves reentry outcomes, so recidivism is reduced when people are able to get visits from their family members,” he said.

Couloute said the bill was introduced after one county jail in the state implemented a video calling system and began limiting in-person visits.

Private companies charge up to $1.50 per minute for computer-based video visitations that often don’t work well, making the experience frustrating and expensive.

“Incarcerated people, their families, advocates across the state and lawmakers saw that and said, ‘Hey, we have to do something about it,'” Couloute said. “And that’s a positive thing, that people are coming to the defense of people who are really being exploited.”

The visitation provision has remained in the larger bill through several revisions, and Couloute is confident it will be included in the final legislation.

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