On Saturday, June 28, an overwhelming smell of hamburgers and hotdogs on the charcoal barbeque filled the air at Warner Creek Correctional Facility (WCCF).
A total of 69 pre-approved friends and family members lined up outside the front entrance anxiously waiting to visit their incarcerated loved ones. Today visiting was not like most other Saturday afternoons, because today there would be an enhanced visit, the first one of its kind at WCCF.
Enhanced visits are something that is new to WCCF but not new to all the other prisons around the state of Oregon. Several institutions statewide have been trying these types of visits more recently.
The thought behind these enhanced visits comes from a study conducted by the Minnesota Department of Corrections, “THE EFFECTS OF PRISON VISITATION ON OFFENDER RECIDIVISM.”
The rural location has definitely proven to be an ongoing challenge for many of the adults in custody at WCCF. The significant distance to travel and the cost associated with traveling, such as fuel, lodging, meals, etc. can be very expensive and often prohibits visitation for many housed at WCCF and other institutions located on the eastside of the state.
Due to safety and security reasons, it is necessary for rules, policies and procedures to be in place. This ensures the safety of the visitors, the staff and the adults in custody.
This is the area that the enhanced visit addresses so perfectly. And it was evident just how much of an impact this type of visit had on the adults in custody and their visitors almost immediately. Over and over, visitors and inmates alike were expressing their appreciation for this special time to spend together, in many cases beginning the process of rebuilding damaged and/or neglected relationships.
It was powerful to watch an inmate sit at a table outside and play building blocks with his 6-year-old granddaughter. This was the first time that she had ever visited him while incarcerated. His mother and grandmother sat beside them, four generations together sharing a meal.
When asked what this event meant to him, he replied, “This is remarkable”. He went on to talk about how his family barbequed a lot when he was on the streets. His mother Kathy Zech, who traveled over from Medford said that this really gave them all something to look forward to.
Another inmate had four very special visitors that traveled from Medford to attend the enhanced visiting event, his mother, step-father, aunt and sister. His sister, Martha Ramirez stated that they usually visit once a month in the summer and fall, but can’t really visit in the spring and winter due to the weather and road conditions.
Ramirez said that she was “grateful” and “appreciates this opportunity as it streamlines the process of human to human connection”.
Enhanced visits are an example of evidence-based services that the director speaks about. WCCF has set a goal to hold an enhanced family visiting event a minimum of four times per year, but recognizes that it will be challenging during the winter months.
The next event is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 23. The adults in custody submit a request to participate in the event with visitors from their approved visitor list. It is not a guarantee that all who submit their request will be approved to attend the event.
Each event will be dependent on the number of participants (inmates and visitors combined) WCCF is able to accommodate. They must maintain good conduct and the adults in custody pay for the cost of their visitor’s meals.