As new video technologies become the norm, it is not surprising to see the application of video teleconferencing as a tool to augment or replace in person visitation in our nation’s local jails and state and federal prisons. What are the best ways to implement such visitation? What is the empirical rationale to using video, Skpye, and other forms of technological advancements to replace traditional and often prohibitive phone calls? Through a cooperative agreement with the US Department of Justice’s National Institute of Corrections, I am serving as a consultant to the Osborne Association to assist in the development of two guides for use by correction’s agencies. The first will articulate the rationale and tools to assess alternative visitation practices. The second will serve as a resource guide for implementation. Clearly, this “new” business is multi-faceted and should continue to be fully explored from many angles.
Through my work at Family Justice, I learned firsthand the value of maintaining family and other social network connections for the person incarcerated, their family and loved ones, and for the correctional administration. For children, in particular, in person contact may improve overall development and school performance. Distance, complicated by cost and other time demands, often make in person visits too difficult for caregivers and seniors with a host of other responsibilities. Maintaining connections can also improve the process of going home for all, especially when case planning can include the family and social network. For corrections, it will be key to learn the benefits of increased family contact on institutional behavior and skill development.
Implementing Change Aboard
A few consultancies stand out as a part of my education and part of my desire to join with other cultures to tap the inherent resources of family and social networks. In October, 2012, I worked with the Open Society Institute (OSI) to bring the conversation of prison reentry to former Soviet and Eastern European countries to life. Beginning with an applied research model, I learned what each country was proudest of, their weak points and aspirations to improve outcomes for those leaving prison and for their families. The meeting, held in Romania, used mapping and other tools to help participants better understand their support networks, challenges, and to create strategies for implementation on their return home.
In a similar vein, this brand of methodology was also used in my work with the country of Scotland. Families Outside, a national organization that recognized the imperative to engage social networks, had me coordinate a retreat with government officials and service providers to improve practices and outcomes for those incarcerated, those returning home, and their families.
These methods of engaging practitioners and government providers also occurred in Nepal, Singapore, Australia and Thailand as a part of a scaling family-focused work.