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

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.

[1] 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.

[2] 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.[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

4th Purpose seeks to research, develop, support and advocate for best practices that positively impact the prison setting and those involved therein–inmates, corrections staff, volunteer support, family members, victims and the like. 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. What must be addressed is the organizational, operational, and traumatic stressors in the correctional setting. These factors lead 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 offenders. Research shows that correctional officer turnover rates are as high as 55% in some state prisons and recruitment and retention remains 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.

In order to improve this environment, 4th Purpose seeks to create a video series entitled “Virtue and Valor” as a means to complement the typical security training a correctional officer receives during his or her employment.  The theme of virtue provides an umbrella by which the concept of human dignity and quest of a purposeful and meaningful life can dwell. Under the theme of virtue, the wellbeing of the officer can be addressed, as well as various aspects of the corrections job that involves staff/inmate interaction. The theme of valorization focuses on the elevation of the workforce as a whole. We desire to build valor into corrections as we increase its level of professionalism, expectations, and competencies, all established on a foundation of virtue, having zero tolerance for corruption and abuses of power. In doing so, we demonstrate to the world that correctional officers are more than just jailers, but are valuable agents of transformation who are instrumental in the creation of thriving and safe communities. Ultimately, this is an investment in the personhood of the officer, helping each one to be a better, well-rounded, healthier person, which in turn, will produce a better correctional officer on the post.

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

Source: Utah Department of Corrections

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