WASHINGTON (Sept. 14, 2020)—COVID-19 has affected communities across the country—including incarcerated individuals. By severely curtailing in-person visitation, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the need to assess and improve technological options for promoting family connections with individuals who are incarcerated.

In a new paper, R Street director of Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties, Arthur Rizer, R Street associate director of Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties, Nila Bala, and research consultant, Diane Cheng, argue that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted traditional forms of connection—including in-person visitation and phone calls—though barriers to all forms of communication existed prior to the pandemic.

The authors find that: “[P]ositive family connections during incarceration are critical for an inmate’s wellbeing, their likelihood of successful re-entry after time served and the overall strength of their family. Technology can help families stay connected, but the cost, accessibility and quality of current options often pose barriers to meaningful interaction.”

Given the benefits to communication during incarceration, improvements are needed to address the issues of cost, access and quality with newer technological options, such as video visitation and electronic messages. Mobile applications and other web-based services have been developed to help families stay connected with their incarcerated loved ones, though more research is needed to assess their quality.

Read the full report here.