Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2012, $355,296)
The purpose of this research is to investigate the impact of video visitation on corrections, staff, inmates, and their families. The Vera institute will use a mixed-methods research design to analyze the implementation of video visitation, the potential impact of the program on the frequency and nature of visits, the potential impact on offender custodial compliance and reductions in recidivism, and the cost effectiveness of video visitation over conventional in-person visits. This study is based on the hypotheses that providing inmates with access to video visitation will increase the nature and frequency of inmates' contacts with their families and other supportive people. These, in turn, will improve inmates' compliance with custodial rules and outcomes after their release from prison.
The State of Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) will have a system-wide video visitation program fully operational by January 2013 with one vendor: JPay. This system-wide implementation will lay the foundation for the study. Data for the implementation study will come from approximately 20 interviews of correctional and JPay program staff and an online survey of high-ranking officials of 25 other state systems that currently use JPay. The outcome study will analyze inmates whose sentences span 2011-2015 to see if availability of video visitation results in more or less visits. Vera will also survey 300 male and 100 female inmates regarding their perceptions of the program and the degree that they use video visits. Focused interviews of 20 inmates and 20 semi-structured phone interviews of visitors will provide more in-depth data on the survey topics. This data will be augmented by DOC administrative data on the frequency and nature of visits. The impact study will use DOC administrative data and the State of Washingtons Integrated Client Database (ICDB) to analyze any changes in custodial compliance or recidivism after release that may be due to video visitation. Finally, the cost effectiveness study will be based on cost information for both video and in-person visitation through government budgets and spending records and contracts and financial information for JPay.
The data for the impact study will be analyzed using a pre/post study design with propensity score matching to determine a comparison group of inmates who did not have access to video visitation. Two pairs of intervention and comparison groups will be constructed, one for estimating the impact on in-person conduct and one for estimating the impact on reentry outcomes. For in-prison conduct, the impact of video visitation will be estimated using: number of prison rule infractions; severity of prison rule infractions; outcomes of prisoner adjudications; and participation in prison programs. The intervention group will include inmates who were in prison for at least 18 months after the implementation of the video visitation program; measures will be tracked for one (1) year after a six (6)-month exposure period. The comparison group will include all inmates who, at one (1) year prior to the implementation of the program, have been incarcerated for at least six (6) months. The impact on reentry outcomes will be estimated using arrest rates and time to arrest after release, charges, severity of charges, and convictions (both for new offenses and parole violations). Both aggregate and facility-level analyses will be conducted. The results of the impact study weighted by the cost of video visitation versus in-person visitation (or a combination of both) will provide the foundation for the cost effectiveness study.