Thu | Nov 26, 2020

Letter of the Day | Minister Montague ahead of his time

Published:Thursday | July 27, 2017 | 12:00 AM


I have never liked the word 'conjugal'. It is really a loose combination of three early 16th-century Latin words for 'spouse', 'together', and 'yoke'. For our purposes, it describes private sexual visits between a prisoner and a spouse.

Robert Montague, the minister of national security, has attracted strong public responses for advocating conjugal visits for some inmates. There are many who do not believe prisoners are deserving of this accommodation. Well, what about the spouses?

The minister seems to be able to speak for himself, so I will not attempt to assist him. Permit me, however, to bring to public attention the position of progressive thinkers who rely on empirical evidence to guide them.

In 2012, the Florida International University conducted a three-year study in five states that permitted conjugal visits. The findings revealed that there were fewer rapes and sexual assault cases than those states where such visits are prohibited, urging social scientists to revisit the theory that sexual offences are crimes of power rather than a means of sexual gratification. This also suggests that sexual deviance can be attenuated given appropriate policy initiatives.

Inmate-on-inmate sexual offences are much less pronounced in states that allow conjugal visitation. In state prisons that prohibit conjugal visits, violent incidents occur at a rate of 226 per 100,000 prisoners. These occur four times less frequently in the states that permit such visits (57 per 100,000 prisoners).


Positive effects


There are other positive effects, too. They improve the functioning of the marriage by maintaining an inmate's role as partner. It improves inmates' behaviour in prison. It counters the negative effects of 'prisonisation' and improves post-release success by enhancing the inmates' ability to maintain ties with his family.

My own unscientific snooping has revealed that much of the tension in prisons has its genesis in the doubts and fears of the activities of the separated spouse. The resultant frustration is usually expressed in various forms of violence and other forms of disruptive acts.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the countries with the best rehabilitation successes and the lowest recidivism rates are those that design their correctional facilities as family units that permit privacy and cooking.

I think the minister and his team may be a little bit ahead of the rest of us when it comes to progressive ideas for our correctional arrangements.