Behind bars but connected to family: Evidence for the benefits of family contact during incarceration.

Incarceration separates individuals from their families and communities, strictly limiting and controlling contact with the outside world. Despite these barriers, those who maintain contact with their families during incarceration tend to function more adaptively postrelease. Within a longitudinal framework, the current study examines mechanisms (i.e., family connectedness, postrelease planning) by which contact with family during incarceration may impact postrelease functioning (i.e., recidivism, substance misuse, mental illness, community functioning), considering differences between type of contact (visits, phone calls, letters) and whether it occurred in a jail or prison setting. Participants included 507 adults incarcerated in a local jail (Mage = 32 years, SD = 10 years; 70% male; 44.3% Black, 36.4% White; 59.5% parents). Structural equation modeling results demonstrated having more frequent contact with family during incarceration predicts increases in family connectedness, which in turn predicts better mental health during the first-year postrelease. Although not related to frequency of contact, making plans for postrelease predicted adaptive community functioning during the first-year postrelease. There were no differences in the overall model based on type of contact or incarceration in a jail versus prison setting. These findings suggest maintaining contact with family during incarceration can facilitate more psychologically healthy adjustment during the stressful process of reentering society. Furthermore, incarcerated individuals should be encouraged to make plans for postrelease while still incarcerated either independently or in collaboration with family. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)