22 July 2020

Spotlight on the evidence: the impact of prison visits on reducing re-offending

The Crime Reduction Toolkit provides access to the best-available evidence on what works to reduce crime.  Our latest intervention added to the Toolkit shows that overall, prison visits can reduce re-offending by a quarter.

Research suggests that visits from friends and family can reduce re-offending amongst prisoners. Based on a meta-analysis, which combined data from 16 individual studies, many of which were undertaken in the US, the findings highlight strong evidence for the effectiveness of prison visits in reducing re-offending. Overall, re-offending fell by 26%, with visits that allow for the greatest amount of personal time potentially the most effective. The reduction was greatest when measured after one year, with the impact of visits declining over time. 

Prison visits provide prisoners with an opportunity to keep in touch with those who are close to them. By enabling these relationships to continue, visits can introduce a supportive and positive influence, which may prevent a return to criminal behaviour after release. The research suggests that close, personal contact may help individuals cope with feelings of loss, anger or frustration, both in prison and when back in the community. Friends and family also play a key role in supporting those who have recently been released get back on their feet, such as by helping them to access employment, health, housing and welfare services.

Visits varied and could involve face-to-face meetings, an opportunity to spend time in private, or allow brief, temporary release. Those visits that provided the most personal contact were shown to make the biggest difference, reducing re-offending by 36%. This is possibly due to the extra intimacy that extended visits allow, though further research is required to fully understand how the degree of closeness impacts upon behaviour after release. Given the potential benefits, the review recommended that visits should be encouraged and made as accessible as possible, whilst ensuring the safety of prison staff, those visiting and other prisoners.

You can look at other interventions related to re-offending, diversion and prevention using the Crime Reduction Toolkit in either bubble mode or table mode. The Toolkit describes the impact of different interventions on crime and helps you to understand how interventions work, where they work, how to implement them and their cost. Prison visits appears in bubble mode at the top of the page because the evidence shows that it works in reducing crime.

Click through to read the full description of the evidence and access the published review report.

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