Prisoners who maintain family relationships while in prison are less likely to reoffend. Positive experiences of being visited in jail are important in keeping relationships on track, research suggests. Taking steps to ensure prisoner visits can be as positive as possible – both for prisoners and visitors – can reduce reoffending, says researcher Dr Dominique Moran.

In a three-year study of prison visitation and recidivism in the UK, researchers explored the spaces in which prison visits took place and the quality of the experience. Often, the setting for visits is a very large open space, containing chairs and low tables bolted to the floor with the onus on safety and surveillance.

"As a result, it's often extremely noisy, with lots of reverberation from the hard surfaces," Dr Moran says. "The way the furniture is fixed to the floor can mean a visitor is closer to the conversation going on behind them, than to the person they have come to visit. Overall, it can be extremely difficult to hold the kind of conversation that is likely to support a relationship."

If prison visiting is recognised to be important to rehabilitation, then more attention should be paid to the spaces in which visits take place. "It's possible to do a lot with these spaces – including the use of carpet to reduce noise levels, better spacing of tables, a mix of spaces, upholstered furniture, colourful wall displays – that can facilitate good interactions while mitigating against the security risks inherent in visits," she says.

Prisons should also pay greater attention to improving the frequently stressful experience of visitors which can be exacerbated by the negative view in which they are held by some prison staff.