‘Invest in us, invest in the bus’: Children of the incarcerated call for return of prison visitation program
Children of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated parents joined with advocates and local officials on the steps of Borough Hall Thursday night to call for the passage of a trio of bills that they say would make it easier for families to visit their loved ones in upstate prisons.
Advocates for families affected by the criminal justice system called for the return of a free prison visiting bus program that was slashed in 2011 due to budget cuts and has left families paying as much as $75 per person on transportation to prisons.
Children with incarcerated parents gripped homemade signs in the below-freezing cold Thursday night to share their family stories.
“Bringing back free visiting buses and placing my dad closer to home would help tremendously,” said Anthony, a child whose father is incarcerated hundreds of miles away. “Invest in us, invest in the bus.”
There are an estimated 105,000 children with parents incarcerated in New York State and of the state’s total incarcerated population, about 70 percent of people are located over 100 miles from their homes.
A study by the Minnesota Department of Corrections found family visits reduced the risk of recidivism by 13 percent for felony convictions and 25 percent for technical violation revocations.
New York DOCCS has not conducted any studies in relation to visiting and recidivism, but the department says it is committed to maintaining family ties.
“DOCCS encourages continued family bonds and prepares inmates for their return to society through facility visits, structured visitation programs and family events,” an agency spokesperson told the Brooklyn Eagle in October.
A bill introduced by Assemblymember Carmen De La Rosa would reinstate the bus program, providing regular free transportation for residents of New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany to state prisons. It would cost an estimated $3 million annually out of DOCCS’s $3 billion budget.
“When we do not allow children to say, ‘mommy,’ to say, ‘daddy,’ to call out for those parents and actually see them and touch them and feel them, we are denying their right to that relationship,” De La Rosa said at the rally. “They are serving time with their parents and that is not fair.”
Jose Saldana of the Release Aging People in Prison campaign, was incarcerated for 38 years before he was released two years ago. When he was arrested, he said, he already had four children.
“They would spend the next 38 years of their lives visiting me,” Saldana said of his children. “They basically grew up in prison visiting rooms with me and when the visiting room program was discontinued, I was still incarcerated. I have seen the devastation that that has caused on families.”
The visiting bus legislation and a bill to bring incarcerated parents to the facility closest to their families, are both sponsored by State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery in the Senate.
The bills have stalled in the state legislature, in part due to budget concerns, advocates said.
Since 2011 when the free visiting bus program was cut, DOCCS has closed 17 correctional facilities, saving $2 billion, said Tanya Krupat of the Osborne Association, a group that works to create opportunities for people affected by the criminal justice system and the sponsor of the rally.
“It’s cold outside, but it’s cold what we’re doing to families every day in this state,” said Borough President Eric Adams. “There’s no reason we’re sending family members from Bedford-Stuyvesant all the way to Binghamton … We know this is about dollars and cents, we know this does not make sense.”
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