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. He, himself, was incarcerated during the 9/11 terrorist attacks that also resulted in a prolonged shutdown and loss of outside visits. 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)
Corrections Practices that Encourage Healthy Family Ties
Encouraging family connection during incarceration was already on the forefront of our minds at 4th Purpose even before COVID-19 shut down all visitation. 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. 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. A focus of 4th purpose is to work with prison administrators to review policies, visitation areas, and staff/family interactions, promoting the utilization of best practices in order for prisons to be as family-visitation-friendly as possible.
The Covid-19 shutdown, however, emphasized the need to rethink better communication among families even beyond face-to-face visits. Our foundation is interested in evaluating innovative ideas that leverage technology to help develop scalable solutions of improved communication among family members affected by incarceration.
 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, & Abuse 18 (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.
 Minnesota DOC “The Effects of Prison Visitation on Offender Recidivism” November 2011, 27.
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. 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%.
Prison volunteers are typically a highly educated, committed and reliable group who represent prosocial institutions and practices. 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.
 Ibid, iii.
 “The Effects of Prison Visits from Community Volunteers on Offender Recidivism,” The Prison Journal 96 (2):279-303, 2016.
 “Prison Volunteers: Profiles, Motivations, Satisfaction,” Journal of Offender Rehabilitation 40 (1/2): 173-183, 2004.
Technology in Prison
COVID-19 also highlighted the need to improve pipelines of communication to prisons so that effective programming can continue throughout shut down situations. Technology is not readily available in the prison and jail setting, and every facility handles content sharing differently. While the rest of the world has transitioned to web-based information sharing, prisons continue to have limited-to-no internet access. In the distribution of Visitation 2.0, our staff had to work with every correctional facility individually in order to make Visitation 2.0 available in whatever medium was needed for their specific setting. Our foundation is interested in evaluating innovative ideas that leverage technology to help develop scalable solutions of improved electronic programming that is easily and affordably deliverable to an inmate audience. A better pipeline of communication is needed so that life-giving, prosocial interaction can continue during shutdowns and be easily disseminated on a large scale.