People all across this country travel for hours to visit their loved ones in prison. They do this in an effort to maintain a connection, offer prisoners something positive and to confirm that their loved one is alive. Visitors do so knowing that they may not get admitted as there are numerous screening tools and visits can be cancelled at anytime, without notice. Visiting an institution can be traumatizing and visitors are often misunderstood and mistreated.
Working in a prison can be dangerous. The staff put their own safety at risk in an effort to contribute to public safety. The questions and lack of knowledge by visitors can annoy and frustrate them. At times visitors appear to lack respect for security procedures and for their authority. Prison staff do not make the rules and are simply trying to do their job. They are often scoffed at and blamed for all that is wrong by visitors. Their job is a difficult one and being viewed negatively makes it more so. Dealing with visitors can be difficult and at times prison staff are also misunderstood and mistreated.
Daily prison visits are resulting in more harm and further victimization. It would be much easier and less traumatizing if a little insight and perspective could be offered. A chance for both parties to hear what the experience is like for the other and the opportunity to offer suggestions for what can be done to make things better.
Visitors could hear what they could do to mitigate frustration and help speed the process up. They could hear the staffs perspective, learn about the day-to-day hassles, procedures and security checks that have to be done in addition to dealing with them. Perhaps visitors could empathize with the dangers the staff face and realize that they are simply trying to do their job. They could be reminded that staff also have loved ones that they are trying to keep safe.
Prison staff could hear how difficult it is for visitors to enter a prison and to have a loved one living in one. They could hear the visitors perspective, learn about the pain, the shame and how afraid they are that their loved one might get hurt or killed. Perhaps they could see that their actions can either mitigate or aggravate the trauma caused by visiting a prison and realize that what is routine to them is foreign and intimidating to visitors. Although they have a job to do, they could be reminded that they are dealing with people whose very presence is contributing to public safety, rehabilitation and successful reintegration.
Restorative Justice aims to do no further harm. A circle process could provide a chance for communication and an understanding of the harm caused by prison visits. Perhaps the two sides could find some commonality and work collectively towards safe reintegration, lowered recidivism and continued healing.
What is a circle? Below is a link on the process.
Here is a link to the Corrections Canada Family and Friends page. Suggestions and feedback are welcome.