Focus Areas

We want to keep you abreast of our current areas of interest for 4th Purpose. In determining how to be a catalyst to make prison a place of transformation, we are driven by our organizational values and researched best practices.

Our Work During COVID-19 Pandemic: Visitation 2.0

The COVID-19 crisis greatly affected the operations of prisons and the population that resides there. With all access to prisons and jails stopped, we were tasked to think differently about how to carry out our work.

Josh Smith knew firsthand the panic and discouragement that can mount when inmates are locked down even tighter and shut away even further from the outside world. When the COVID-19 crisis hit and all prisons and jails were locked down, Josh’s first concern was over the suffering that the loss of family and volunteer visits would inflict on the inmates.  Therefore, our organization temporarily stopped all other prison reform initiatives to focus on the creation of a “digital visit” that we hoped would stand in the gap in a creative way during the Coronavirus Crisis.  The project, aptly called “Visitation 2.0,” is a 5-part series of 30-minute video episodes bringing a message of love, hope, support and encouragement specifically to those who are incarcerated during the COVID 19 epidemic. (To learn more about the Visitation 2.0 series, go to About #Visitation 2.0 tab)

Furthermore, because Visitation 2.0 received much support and positive feedback from inmates, family members of inmates & correctional staff, our foundation put together a series specifically tailored to the incarcerated youth audience, called Visitation 2.0 Special Edition Youth. Much like Visitation 2.0, this new series offers messages of hope and encouragement and has helped broaden our outreach to more facilities across the country so that those incarcerated are reminded that they are loved, supported, and not forgotten.

In addition, those who have viewed our Visitation 2.0 series have stated they would like to see special editions of Visitation 2.0 to continue being produced. The moving testimonies and encouraging feedback received from our previous episodes has inspired our foundation to produce more of this content throughout the year. We want these to serve as a free resource for facility staff, ministry groups and volunteers, to help in efforts to transform the lives of all those who are incarcerated.

Corrections Practices that Encourage Healthy Family Ties

The emotional hardships for the more than 2.7 million children affected by incarceration has been well-documented. One study even suggests that parental incarceration may be worse for the child than divorce or the death of a parent.[1] Though the separation a prison sentence creates is inevitable, 4th Purpose Foundation would like to explore possibilities that will improve the family connections through incarceration, and help remove any unnecessary barriers families may encounter.

Research demonstrates that increased family contact and emotional connection improves the well-being of the child and the parent. Positive family connections, such as visits and calls, have also demonstrated a positive effect on inmate behavior and even recidivism rates.[2] A landmark study by the Minnesota Department of Corrections, evaluating over 16,000 released inmates, reported that even one visit reduced the risk of recidivism by 13% for felony reconvictions and 25% for technical violation revocation.[3] Helping families affected by incarceration to stay connected could be the most efficient and cost-effective reentry effort any facility could incorporate.

A focus of the 4th Purpose team is to work with prison administrators to promote healthy family connections. Utilizing a rubric drawn from the “Model Practices for Parents in Prisons and Jails: Reducing Barriers to Family Connections,” we propose the review of policies, visitation areas, and staff/family interactions to ensure the utilization of best practices in order for prisons to be as family-visitation-friendly as possible.[4] The evaluation criteria are the research results from the Urban Institute, which were adopted and promoted by the National Institute of Corrections as guidelines for correctional administrators in their efforts to reduce barriers to incarcerated parents’ communication with their children. The recommendations of this document are not only evidence-based, but are also low-cost and high-impact practices.

[1] American Sociological Association (ASA). “Parental Incarceration can be worse for a child than divorce or death of a parent.” ScienceDaily, 16 August 2014. Retrieved from

[2] Joshua C. Cochran, “The Ties that Bind or the Ties That Break: Examining the Relationship between Visitation and Prisoner Misconduct,” Journal of Criminal Justice 40 (5): 433-40, 2012; Karen De Claire and Louise Dixon, “The Effects of Prison Visits from Family members on Prisoners’ Well-Being, Prison Rule Breaking, and Recidivism: A Review of Research since 1991,” Trauma, Violence, & Abuse18 (2): 185-99, 2017; Grant Duwe and Valarie Clark, “Blessed Be the Social Tie That Binds: The Effects of Prison Visitation on Offender Recidivism,” Criminal Justice Policy Review 24 (3): 271-96, 2013.

[3] Minnesota DOC “The Effects of Prison Visitation on Offender Recidivism” November 2011, 27.

[4] Peterson, B., Fontaine, J., & Cramer, L. (2019, July 15). Model Practices for Parents in Prisons and Jails(Rep.). Retrieved A presentation of this research was conducted at the American Correctional Association Conference in January of 2020 in San Diego, CA.

Advocating for Reduced Barriers for Community/Volunteer Activity

The positive effects of family visits, however, does not help the approximately 40% of inmates who will not receive any visits during their incarceration.[1] Matthew Charles, one of the first to be released from federal prison as a result of the First Step Act, was recently featured in a Visitation 2.0 episode. In that interview, he stated that he did not receive a single visit his entire 21 years of incarceration.  He stated that the volunteers became his family, and he greatly looked forward to their weekly visits. Furthermore, research demonstrates that volunteer visits, that is, visits from community volunteers who do not have a familial or social tie to the inmate, reduced the risk of recidivism by 31%.[2]

Prison volunteers are typically a highly educated, committed and reliable group who represent prosocial institutions and practices.[3]  They represent the kind of influence our inmates desperately need. Taking this with the research findings of reduced recidivism linked to the presence and activity of volunteers, our organization seeks to advocate for policies and procedures that encourage community and volunteers’ access and activity to the inmate population.

[1] Ibid, iii.

[2] “The Effects of Prison Visits from Community Volunteers on Offender Recidivism,” The Prison Journal 96 (2):279-303, 2016.

[3] “Prison Volunteers: Profiles, Motivations, Satisfaction,” Journal of Offender Rehabilitation 40 (1/2): 173-183, 2004.

Virtue and Valor Series

We want better inmate outcomes, but we can’t make prison a place of transformation without first dealing with the unique risks of the prison setting. The unique demands of the prison organization and its workforce, which greatly affect the inmate/staff interaction, must be a part of the mission of making prison a place of transformation. A toxic inmate/staff interaction is counterproductive to the rehabilitation/transformation process. Correctional fatigue leads to high employee burnout, which not only produce negative effects on the health and wellbeing of the officer, but also result in negative and dehumanizing interactions with inmates. Additionally, correctional officer turnover rates are as high as 55% in some state prisons. Recruitment and retention are a critical problem throughout US corrections.[1] The vacancy and turnover rates drive up the overtime demands, further contributing to an environment favorable for burnout. This environment includes traumatic stressors such as direct and indirect exposure to violence, injury and death repeatedly, and the constant difficult and demanding social interaction between staff and inmates.

We seek to develop resources to invest in the personhood of the correctional staff that results in increased resilience, job fulfillment and sense of purpose as they operate as agents of transformation, instrumentally effective in the creation of thriving and safe communities. Our first staff resource initiative will be called Virtue and Valor. More information will be coming soon.

As our correctional workforce becomes healthier and oriented around the human dignity approach of safety and goodwill, community engagement can grow and innovation will follow.

[1] Joe Russo, “Workforce Issues in Corrections,” Corrections Today, Nov/Dec 2019, 20-25.

Source: Utah Department of Corrections

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