The incidence of violence is quite high among the nation’s prison inmates. By and large, the literature devoted to identifying the determinants of inmate behavior does not consider the influence of inmate interaction with people outside the prison. Maintaining contact with one’s family and friends may serve as a counterweight to the isolation and negative peer influences experienced while incarcerated. In this paper, we assess whether receiving in-prison visits affects the degree to which state prison inmates are written-up for behavioral infractions.
To overcome the threats to internal validity inherent in an observational study of the relationship between visits and inmate misconduct, we exploit variation in the physical distance between one’s home community and place of incarceration. Using a nationally-representative sample of state and federal prison inmates, we use distance between one’s institution and home community as an instrument for whether one is visited in prison in order to identify the effect of visits on a variety of behavioral outcomes. Using instrumental variables (IV) estimation we find that, for the most part, receiving visits from friends or family reduces behavioral misconduct. The IV results also reveal a significant negative effect of visits on most specific types of violations, but a positive effect on drug violations.
The predominantly negative relationship between visits and inmate misconduct suggests that placing inmates in closer proximity to their home community might improve prison security, which might create more opportunities for rehabilitative programming and reduce the negative impacts of incarceration on inmates and their social networks.