Understanding Gender Racial and Ethnic Differences in the Relationship between Prison Visitation and Recidivism

Project: Research project

Project Details


The mass incarceration movement has produced a number of unintended social and economic consequences. Chief among them is the unexpected finding that the incarceration experience has done little to reduce the likelihood of future criminal behavior by released offenders. And given that imprisonment rates have grown rapidly among women and racial and ethnic minorities, the harmful effects of incarceration are increasingly felt among these groups. Stacked against these realities, prison visitation has emerged as a promising tool to protect against the potential criminogenic effects of imprisonment. In particular, visitation may serve to create, mend, or maintain the social ties that are critical for successful offender reentry into the community. Existing work suggests that prison visitation reduces recidivism, but it is unclear as to whether this relationship is consistent across genders and racial and ethnic groups. Males and females, and prisoners from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, may have access to different levels and types of social support during imprisonment, and can face unique social and structural disadvantages upon their release from prison. As such, prison visitation may not have a similar impact on recidivism for all offenders. Accordingly, this study seeks to advance the literature and inform correctional policy by: 1) examining the effects of visitation on recidivism using a racially and ethnically diverse sample of male and female prisoners; 2) examining whether the effects of visitation on recidivism are universal across genders; 3) examining whether the effects of visitation on recidivism are universal across racial and ethnic groups (i.e., across White, Latino, African American, and American Indian offenders); and 4) examining why these effects may vary (or not) by gender and race/ethnicity. To carry out these objectives, we use administrative data on all prisoners released from the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) during FY2011, along with detailed self-report data on the nature of prison visitation collected from a subsample of inmates incarcerated in ADC. These data sources are particularly unique in that they include a large number of male and female offenders from various racial and ethnic backgrounds and inmates from all levels of security within ADC. The self-report data we use allows for a rich, contextual analysis of inmates experiences with prison visitation. Our broader purpose is to determine whether visitation may play a key role in reducing recidivism among populations most at-risk.
Effective start/end date9/15/158/31/17


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $168,946.00


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