COVID-19 might have further ruptured Christian unity as we debated mandatory vaccines and masking, but there’s one thing we can all agree on based on our experiences over Covidtide: Video calls are a bad substitute for human presence.

True, a video call is better than being out of contact altogether. But there’s a reason that our antipathy to the technology grew over the past two years even as video resolution improved and “You’re muted” reminders became less frequent. God made us as bodies, created to be among and loved by other bodies. It is not good for man to be alone, or remote.

One group has been struggling with this reality longer than most of us: the incarcerated.

Long before the coronavirus, it was already hard for most incarcerated people to receive visitors. In 2015, the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) found that only 31 percent of people in state prisons had received a visitor other than a lawyer in a typical month. The main reason is distance, as prisons continue to be built in remote areas. In state prisons, nearly two-thirds of the population is incarcerated more than 100 miles from home. In federal prisons, the average distance is 500 miles.

If families and friends can make the drive, there’s some good news: State prisons generally don’t ban human contact, even if many have limited hours or days that they allow visits. Jails have been another matter. PPI found that 74 percent of jails banned in-person visits when they implemented video visitation. One of the leading companies in the $1.4 billion-a-year prison telecommunication industry even required facilities to “eliminate all face to face visitation.” They dropped the requirement when PPI exposed it, but ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Issue: