A New Role for Technology? The Implementation and Impact of Video Visits in State Prisons, Washington, 2012-2015 (ICPSR 36843)

Version Date: Feb 27, 2020 View help for published

Principal Investigator(s): View help for Principal Investigator(s)
Leon Digard, The Vera Institute of Justice


Version V1

Research shows that prison visitation is integral to the success of incarcerated people, reducing recidivism, facilitating reentry into the community, and promoting positive parent-child relationships. However, people are often incarcerated long distances from their home communities in areas that are difficult to reach by public transport, creating significant barriers to in-person visitation. Departments of corrections are exploring the use of computer-based video visits as a means to address some of the visitation needs of those in custody in a cost-effective way while continuing to encourage in-person visits. To learn more about this practice, the study team conducted the following research activities:

A survey of incarcerated people: The study team surveyed 211 people incarcerated in Washington State prisons about their use of video visits, their perceptions of the service, and their experiences of in-person visits more generally. This was a self-administered, pen-and-paper survey.

An impact evaluation of video visits: The study team analyzed individual-level administrative data from the Washington Department of Corrections (WADOC) and the private video visit vendor (JPay) to understand whether use of the service affected four outcomes: 1) the number of in-person visits people received, 2) the number of rule violations (of any severity) people committed in prison, 3) the number of general (ie. non-serious) rule violations they committed, and 4) the number of serious (as defined by WADOC) rule violations that were committed. The researchers used two analytic techniques: 1) a difference-in-difference test, using inverse probability of treatment weighting, and 2) Bayesian additive regression trees.

An analysis of in-person visit rates: The study team analyzed administrative data relating to all people who were incarcerated for the 12 month period ending November 2015 (n=11,524). The study team produced descriptive statistics and conducted negative binomial regressions to understand the rates of in-person visits and how these related to the characteristics of the incarcerated people.

Digard, Leon. A New Role for Technology? The Implementation and Impact of Video Visits in State Prisons, Washington, 2012-2015. Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2020-02-27. https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR36843.v1

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United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. National Institute of Justice (2012-IJ-CX-0035)


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Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research
2012-01-01 -- 2015-11-30
2014-11, 2015-12
  1. For the full report and other resources based on this study, please visit http://www.vera.org/publications/closing-the-distance.

The purpose of this study is to assess the use of video visits by incarcerated people, the impact of video visits on in-person visit rates, and the impact of video visits on in-prison behavior in terms of number and severity of prison rules infractions.

The study utilizes a mixed-mode data collection. In November 2014, a random sample of incarcerated people in Washington state prisons completed self-administered, pen-and paper surveys about their experiences with video visits.

Researchers also compiled administrative data from the Washington Department of Corrections (WADOC) and JPay on in-prison behavior and video and in-person visits. Individual-level visit data are dated January 1, 2012 to November 30, 2015. One year cohort data are dated November 30, 2014 to November 30, 2015.

Survey participants were selected at random from a list of incarcerated people provided to researchers on the dates that they visited three different facilities.

For the administrative data, data pertaining to the full cohort of people held in WADOC custody at some point during the study period (2012-2015) were collected.

For the impact analysis of video visitation - researchers selected all people who had used the service with moderate frequency (averaging more than 1.5 video visits per year). Inverse-probability of treatment weighting was then used to select a control sample of non-service users.

For the study of in-person visitation rates, all people who were held in custody for the full year ending November 30, 2015, were included.

Time Series: Continuous, Cross-sectional

Adults incarcerated in Washington State prisons during the study period.


Not available.




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