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Hawaii Institutes Non-Contact Visits at Another Prison to Control Contraband

Hawaii’s Department of Public Safety (DPS) has now banned contact visits at three of the state’s correctional institutions: Oahu Correctional Community Center (OCCC), Maui Correctional Community Center (MCCC), and Halawa Correctional Facility (HFC).

The only way families and friends of those incarcerated there can see their loved ones is if they sit behind thick Plexiglass screens and speak by telephone. DPS said the purpose of banning contact visits was to prevent the introduction of contraband into the institutions.

MCCC is the latest of Hawaii’s prisons to ban contact visits, beginning in June 2019. HCF has had them banned since 2014 and OCCC since October 2016.

Contraband has been defined by the DPS as those items not allowed by prison policy, the most common being cellphones, cigarettes, and narcotics. “Contraband is an ongoing battle for correctional facilities across the nation,” stated DPS spokeswoman Toni Schwartz. “Implementation of the non-contact visits resulted in the elimination of a major contraband pathway.” Schwartz stated that she could not discuss other contraband pathways for safety and security reasons.

Yet studies have shown that contact visits help reinforce family and community ties and reduce recidivism. Minnesota Department of Corrections conducted a study that showed a single visit reduced recidivism by 13 percent for new crimes and 25 percent for technical violations.

The Urban Institute, an economic and social policy research center in Washington, D.C., conducted a study that showed non-contact visits between children and family members can be traumatic. Lindsey Cramer, Urban Institute senior research associate, stated, “Contact visits are preferable to non-contact visits because it does allow for that touch, that attachment. It puts the child more at ease. It reassures the child that the parent is safe, is okay.”

Stephen Morse, founder of Blueprint for Change Hawaii, estimated that 3,000 to 4,000 children in Hawaii had parents incarcerated in the prison system. Through Blueprint, Morse pushed for legislation to allow him to work with correctional facilities exploring ways to build family-friendly visitation centers to help those children. “We can prevent children in the families from exhibiting delinquent behavior themselves and perhaps becoming incarcerated and continuing that cycle of incarceration,” he said.

Morse said his long-term vision is to establish these centers in every state correctional facility.

Schwartz of DPS stated, “The maintenance of healthy relationships between inmates and family members while maintaining safe, secure, and rehabilitative correctional environments is a delicate balance we always endeavor to achieve.”