, Fla. — It’s just a draft, but a plan in the works at the Florida Department of Corrections could scale back visitation from every weekend and select holidays, to every other weekend.
While department says the rule would help with flexibility at locations dealing with staffing or other issues, relatives of inmates say not only does it harm families, it also diminishes the one thing shown to keep an inmate from ending up back in prison: a support structure.
“This is how we stay connected; I go to see him just about every weekend,” says Martina Desjardins-Williams, the wife of an inmate. “They are in prison, so that is their punishment, so why are you punishing us as well?”
Studies show a strong family or support structure can reduce the rate of recidivism for an inmate by as much as 25%, a fact DOC acknowledges saying it views visitation as a key component in keeping inmates from returning to prison.
For its part, the department says changes to visitation will only take place in specific conditions and that the proposed change is still being developed.
“As outlined in the proposed rule change, modified visitation and visitation suspensions are clearly defined and will only be considered when absolutely necessary,” wrote DOC on its website. “In the event consideration of modified visitation occurs, the proposed rule also includes an extensive and stringent review process by both regional and statewide administrators.”
The department, which has worked to increase pay over the last decade, is still facing a staffing crisis, with Ricky Dixon, the head of DOC, telling lawmakers earlier this year that staffing for officers was still about 32% below where it needed to be.
“Our staff tonight will be out there, by themselves with 100 to 200 inmates,” said Dixon in January. “We’ve been at this point for several months.”
“We’ve made it this far and now they are just making it so difficult,” says Catherine Hemperley whose husband will be released in two years. “We have a daughter, she’s 23 now, she just had his grandson, we have a large family on his side and my side and a lot of us visit him.”
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