NPR's Morning Edition recently produced a story on ‘remote jailing', and a Washington man imprisoned for DUI served as a case study for why the practice isn't as effective as some policymakers claim it to be.
Remote jailing refers to the practice of local county jails sending inmates far away to complete short-term jail sentences. The main benefit of remote jailing is the money saved by small local governments and the elimination of overcrowded jails. However, there are substantial issues created for inmates and their families that could have significant implications on recidivism rates.
Morning Edition interviewed Preston Bighead, a Tacoma man sentenced to 7 months in prison for DUI, and his girlfriend, Leota. Leota spoke about the 5 hour, 300 mile round-trip from Tacoma to Eastern Washington to visit Preston, which requires her to take a full day off from work. Even with all of this effort, the jail does not permit Leota to see Preston in person; they are forced to use a video chat system to speak. Due to his location, Preston rarely sees Leota, and hasn't seen his family throughout the whole time he has served his almost completed 7 month sentence.
Should the potential savings for local governments trump inconveniences suffered by Preston, Leota, and other individuals and families? Indiana University Bloomington criminologist Mark Berg said no. The distances involved in remote jailing create significant barriers to maintaining strong ties to families and other support networks, which could lead to higher recidivism rates. Berg co-authored a 2011 study which found that inmates with strong family support during time of incarceration were less likely to commit crimes after they'd been released from jail. Maintaining ties to support networks gave former inmates better access to housing, childcare, and employment opportunities upon release from jail.
Remote jailing is not practiced in all states, but is fairly common in Washington. Hopefully, more studies like Berg's will begin to influence our legislature into creating policies that support stronger family ties while reducing recidivism, in order to strengthen communities across our state.