To the Editor:
Please find below part of the testimony I gave on March 8 in Augusta in support of LD 767, “An Act To Ensure the Availability of In-person Visitation in County Jails.”
I am a pastor of a church here in Maine and I lead chapel services at the Hancock Country Jail once a week.
I list here two reasons for my support. I have seen the reality of them in my interactions with inmates over the years. Of course, they are not meant in any way to negate the importance of proper safety measures within jails.
First, there is a real need for in-person or, as it is also put, “contact” visits. I think the term “contact” gets at the heart of the issue. As humans we need contact: to be able to hug a loved one, to give your daughter or son a kiss, to hold the hand of the one who is forgiving you — these are not incidentals. When we seek to be understood, to communicate love, to ask for forgiveness, the first and most important thing we typically do is non-verbal. For the inmate, we should not needlessly reduce visitation to something other than in-person. The non-verbals communicated through presence and touch are an essential part of human relationships and well-being.
Second, the offenses for which we incarcerate are not simply offenses against the state, but individuals’ offenses against loved ones. Families are deeply affected by criminal activity. And families have ways of mending and moving forward that differ from the ways states mend and move forward. The state must be mindful of the institution of the family, its needs, its ways of healing and reconciling. The state has an obligation to respect this institution and to support it insofar as it is able. The well-being of families is part of society’s larger goal of restorative justice.
Visits that take place opposite glass or through video have their place; however, we must not think they can substitute for or replace in-person visits.