By Kevin Deutsch
A trio of bills in the state legislature would make it easier for Bronx families to visit incarcerated loved ones behind bars.
One bill would reinstate a free New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision bus program—begun in 1973 but discontinued in 2011—that shuttles families twice a month from New York City, Albany, Buffalo, New York, Rochester, and Syracuse to New York State prisons.
Another would require the DOC to place incarcerated parents at facilities closer to their children and other family members, shortening travel time and costs.
Lastly, the legislation would require that in-person visits never be taken away from a child when their parent is incarcerated. Currently, such visits can be denied by corrections officials.
Assembly member Nily Rozic, who supports the legislative package, said the bills would help reduce recidivism across the state.
“Ensuring that a parent who is incarcerated can be placed in a facility closest to their child when possible is not only critical to successful re-entry, but also to mitigate the strain of family separation that can severely impact a child throughout their parent’s sentence,” said Rozic. “This bill is a step towards improving the ways in which DOCCS can provide a more rehabilitative environment.”
State Senator Brian Benjamin, who cosponsored some of the legislation, said the “package of bills will ensure that families are kept intact as much as possible during their period of incarceration.”
There are about 80,000 children in New York State with a parent in prison, advocates estimate. More than 20,000 prisoners incarcerated in state facilities hail from the five boroughs, with many housed hundreds of miles from their families.
Leading the charge to raise awareness and support for the legislation are members of We Got Us Now, a national organization that works to raise awareness about the issue of children of incarcerated parents, and which organized the Harlem rally.
“While the true solution to this problem lies in decarcerating jails and prisons, we must reinstate the free bus program from NYC and lift the ban on daily visits in medium security prisons to help ensure that families, regardless of wealth and access, stay connected during incarceration,” the Legal Aid Society said in a statement supporting the bills. “This is the right thing to do, and study after study demonstrates that maintaining family ties helps incarcerated people reintegrate home after release, helps children of an incarcerated parent grow up to thrive, and fosters ties to the community.”
The bills could come up for votes in the assembly and state senate as early as this month.