The American prison system is overcrowded and expensive to run. The recidivism rate is more than 50% in the first year, and even higher over the next 5 years after release. Drug abuse, violence, and despair are the overarching theme of the conversations with former inmates.
Programs have come and gone over the years, but the issues only increase. Providing education to incarcerated persons, arming them with earning potential upon release did not provide all that was promised. Felons find it most difficult to obtain gainful employment. Work details, military-style boot camps, furniture making, and counseling have failed to make the level of impact intended.
The situation appeared bleak to the point that the government wanted to privatize the prison system, to transfer the expense onto to someone else. Someone decided to be smarter and consider the things that work. The one thing that consistently improves morale and a determination to remain emancipated has been a connection to the world outside.
Family visitations have been shown to improve the recidivism rates across the country. Although no program is perfect, there is hope. Inmate kiosk machine systems are being implemented in prisons across the nation to achieve just that.
The Problem with Current Forms of Communication
Currently, visitors would arrive at the prison for in-person visitation. Additional staff is necessary to manage the visitor populations. Staff members find it difficult to perfectly monitor all activity in a room full of people. Drugs and other contraband are frequently exchanged during these visits.
Incarcerated persons can receive letters through the postal service. Letters are monitored for encoded language and contraband. Staff members also find it difficult to monitor all activity in this medium. People are creative and crafty and have found ways to surpass the precautionary measures.
Phone calls are another means of communication. These calls can become costly for the recipient and may not be received if the family is not at home. Phone calls are monitored, but again, additional staff is necessary to decode every call an inmate makes.
The Benefits of a Kiosk System
A kiosk system would allow the inmates to have some control over their interactions and finances. By programming their identification card to work with the kiosk, an inmate can monitor their funds, purchase items from the commissary, apply postage to letters, and send or receive emails at their own cost.
Visitations can be greatly reduced as the inmate can communicate in an instant messaging format for five minutes. Family members will still need to be approved, but the coded language can be programmed into the kiosk. The algorithm will identify code words and alert only the emails that need attending, cutting the need for additional staff.
A reduction in the written mail will reduce the ability to transfer drug paraphernalia. The inmate can use their identification card to access funds transferred to their accounts and pay for their own email transmissions, alleviating the cost to the families. A sense of control, a return of dignity, and a practice that humanizes a person locked away is a promising program. A reduction of recidivism and cost to staff an overwrought system is the right thing to do.