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Benefits and risks of conjugal visits in prison: A systematic literature review

Vladu, Alexandra, Kalebic, Natasha, Audley, Jody, Stevens, Alisa ORCID: and Taylor, Pamela J. ORCID: 2021. Benefits and risks of conjugal visits in prison: A systematic literature review. Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health 31 (5) , pp. 343-361. 10.1002/cbm.2215

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Background Imprisonment impacts on lives beyond the prisoner's. In particular, family and intimate relationships are affected. Only some countries permit private conjugal visits in prison between a prisoner and community living partner. Aims Our aim was to find evidence from published international literature on the safety, benefits or harms of such visits. Methods A systematic literature review was conducted using broad search terms, including words like ‘private’ and ‘family’, to maximise search sensitivity but strict criteria for inclusion – of visits unobserved by prison staff and away from other prisoners. All included papers were quality assessed. Two of us independently extracted data from included papers, according to a prepared checklist. Meta-analysis was considered. Results Seventeen papers were identified from 12 independent studies, all but three of them from North America. The only study of health benefits found a positive association with maintaining sexual relationships. The three before-and-after study of partnership qualities suggested benefit, but conjugal visiting was within a wider family-support programme. Studies with in-prison behaviour as a possible outcome suggest small, if any, association, although one US-wide study found significantly fewer in-prison sexual assaults in states allowing conjugal visiting than those not. Other studies were of prisoner, staff or partner attitudes. There is little evidence of adverse effects, although two qualitative studies raise concerns about the visiting partner's sense of institutionalisation or coercion. Conclusions The balance of evidence about conjugal visiting is positive, but there is little of it. As stable family relationships have, elsewhere, been associated with desistance from crime, the contribution of conjugal visiting to these should be better researched.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Publisher: John Wiley and Sons
ISSN: 0957-9664
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 14 October 2021
Date of Acceptance: 30 August 2021
Last Modified: 07 Nov 2023 14:45

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