"If a person has something to fear about having their fingerprints scanned, then they probably have something to hide," Corbett said. "This is not a background check. It is a stand-alone scan that goes nowhere beyond our system. There may be some fears, but I think those are unfounded."
The policy exists only in Alabama, and Corbett is not aware of other states looking to implement a similar policy right now. Many states do have fees associated with visitation, and the entire process can often be mechanical and uncomfortable, said Nelson, who compared the visiting room process to Jiffy Lube, where the mentality is "here's another car" to be processed.
"Visiting any prison is intimidating," he said. "A lot of visitors end up feeling like they are not welcome. Visiting room guards are not going to be real friendly because often times they are on their third or fourth shift of the day."
In addition to a potentially unwelcoming atmosphere, Clark again cited inordinate and unnecessary expenses as a major barrier.
"They could charge $15 for a 15-minute call from prison," she said. "Many states also do not encourage visitation because they say, 'It's a lot of work for our staff.' "
The Florida study of 2008 offers several suggestions on how to improve visitation conditions. Among them:
• Place inmates in facilities as close to their home communities as possible
• Encourage community service agencies and organizations to visit inmates
• Expand visiting hours to evenings and weekends to accommodate visitors
• Make sure visitation rooms are clean, comfortable and hospitable
The importance of community involvement for inmates both in prison and upon release cannot be overstated, Duwe said.
"We need greater outreach to those in community," he said. "Crime is not a law enforcement problem, it's not a court problem, it's not a corrections problem, it is a societal problem. Usually we see that efforts to control crime are much more successful when we see community involvement."
Nelson illustrates the powerful impact of visitation and the importance of maintaining and fostering relationships.
"I was literally saved by all the people who gave their time to me," Nelson said. "The small things all added up to be something tremendous."
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