Human contact

To the Editor:

I have been reading a lot lately about video visits replacing contact visits at several county jails throughout the state of Maine. As a former corrections officer, I have seen firsthand how important the touch of a loved one is to someone who is incarcerated.

Humans are social by our very nature, and living in a space devoid of any human contact can be detrimental to the psyche. When I started in corrections, from my first day, I stated that I wanted inmates to leave the facility I was working in better than when they came in, thus reducing the rate of recidivism.

On the inside, mail, phone calls and visits are the most important things in any inmate’s life. I have witnessed this firsthand, watching inmates holding the hands of their loved ones, giving brief hugs to their children; it brings the human element back to the inmate, reminding them there are people who love them and are waiting for them to be released, who are promising them a future.

Hearing the voice of a loved one on the phone, holding the hand of your spouse or holding your child in the visit room is all you have to connect you to the outside world. There is a bond formed between child and parent by making eye contact in person. The same bond is not formed by eye contact on a computer screen during a video visit.

Keeping families strong and intact should be a goal of the Department of Corrections, and contact visits help that happen. People who transgress the law and are caught are punished by being incarcerated. That is their punishment, their lack of freedom.

It should not be the intent of the Department of Corrections, or any of its facilities, to further inflict more punishments by taking away the only contact a person has with his loved one.

I understand completely the need for security measures with metal detectors, pat searches, recording devices and K-9 searches in conjunction with contact visits and feel those measures are certainly necessary to help safeguard contraband entering secure facilities. If someone is found to be trafficking or attempting to traffic contraband into a jail or prison, take away their contact visits for an allotted period of time, as they do at Maine State Prison, but don’t take away all contact visits for all incarcerated people.

Heightening security leads to less contraband being trafficked into secure facilities, and that is safer for all staff and inmates alike. But removing all human contact from prisoners only brings about more antisocial behaviors, not healthy pro-social ones. People who are incarcerated are humans and should be treated as such. They are serving their time, repaying their debt to society by being incarcerated.

Should we really be taking them completely away from humanity and just hoping they will miraculously fix themselves?

A.J. Scheurer


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