Rally to Support Visiting at Bronx Supreme Court

On Friday, state lawmakers and a broad coalition of advocates, children of incarcerated parents, and community leaders from the New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents and the Osborne Association, gathered in front of the Bronx Supreme Court to call for immediate action to pass a set of visiting bills that would strengthen in-person visiting in New York State jails and prisons, and increase children and family members’ access to their incarcerated loved ones. Senator Sepulveda and Assemblymember Weprin, Corrections Chairs in the Senate and Assembly, respectively, along with Assemblymember Carmen De La Rosa, sponsor of the Family Visiting Bus bill, urged the State to support children and families affected by a parent’s incarceration.

There are approximately 105,000 children in New York State with a parent in prison or jail. Most of these children deeply miss and want to visit their mothers or fathers, yet distance is a barrier, and many of New York’s 52 prisons are not accessible by public transportation. There are three bills before the New York Legislature that would improve children and family members’ access to their incarcerated loved ones: the Proximity, Family Visiting Bus, and Codification of Visits bills will keep parents closer to their children, provide a means of transportation for family members throughout the state, strengthen family connections, and promote the correctional and public safety goals of rehabilitation and successful reentry. 


The coalition called for the Senate and Assembly to pass the Proximity Bill S724A/A6710 which would require DOCCS to place parents in prisons closer to their children, and the Family Visiting Bus Bill S731A/A5942 which would restore the Visiting Buses that transported thousands of families to visit their loved ones in New York State prisons every year for close to 40 years (from 1973 to 2011). The group also called on the Assembly and Senate to pass the Codification of Visits Bill S2698/A2483 which would enshrine into state law the right to in-person visits at state prisons and local jails, ensuring that video conferencing never replaces in-person visits as is happening in jails across the country. The coalition framed the passage of these bills as important racial justice and anti-poverty measures because families affected by incarceration are disproportionately families of color and low-income families who spend a significant proportion of their income to stay connected to and support incarcerated loved ones. They also proposed that contracts for the restored visiting buses should go to community-based small businesses, prioritizing businesses owned by people of color and women thereby reinvesting in the communities most affected by incarceration. 


“The challenges of incarceration affect entire families. I’m proud to stand here today with colleagues, activists, children of incarcerated parents, and families to support the right to in person visiting, the family visiting bus program, and close to home bills. These recognize the unique and essential role that stronger family and community ties have in supporting both successful rehabilitation and re-entry. It is vital we pass these bills to achieve truer justice, progress, and healing across our state” said Senator Sepulveda, Senate Crime Victims, Crime, and Correction Committee Chair.


“I am proud to stand here today, on the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall, with advocates and family members to make sure the voices of children and families are being heard, especially during this holiday season when family is the most important and the absence of our loved ones who are incarcerated is immensely felt. We must recognize the trauma, sadness and despair that the children with incarcerated parents face every single day. Family visits are necessary in order for families to remain connected and to give these children a bit of hope as they deal with the incarceration of a parent. We know that visits promote an easier reentry process for those incarcerated, helping to maintain a source of support they can rely on as they reintegrate into the communities they have left behind. Visits also provide incarcerated individuals with emotional support, access to their loved ones, and relief from isolation” said NYS Assemblywoman Carmen De La Rosa. “That is why I look forward to working alongside my colleague New York State Senator Montgomery and The New York State Legislature to ensure that we proactively make visiting easier for families in New York. This session we must pass The Visiting Bus Bill (S731A/A5942).  This legislation will work to restore the visiting bus program that DOCCS provided here in New York for 40 years ensuring that families stay connected through visits.” 


“In the next year, New York will have a chance to codify the right to in-person visits into law, expand visiting to seven days at correctional facilities across the state, restore transportation to prisons for the families of incarcerated individuals, and keep parents closer to their children” said Assemblyman David I. Weprin, Assembly Correction Committee Chair. “With study after study showing that visiting has a major effect on reducing recidivism rates, improving safety in prisons, and most significantly, preserving family bonds; we must do all we can to keep families and communities together in the next legislative session and I am glad to join the Osborne Association to call for the passage of this package of bills in 2020.”


“Exodus Transitional Community is pleased to support this package of bills that will enhance visiting options for children and families whose loved ones are incarcerated, in many cases very far away. The financial and emotional ordeal of visiting is vast and the lack of public transportation to many upstate prions creates an extra challenge for children and families. Research points out that familial ties and connection reduces violence and lowers recidivism. We commend AMs Weprin, De La Rosa & Rozic along with Senators Montgomery and Sepulveda for sponsoring these bills that have the potential to create long lasting change and increase public safety. “- Julio Medina, CEO, Exodus Transitional Community, Inc. 


“I am a child of incarcerated parents. While it may sound like a small thing, I remember very distinctly the impact that the lack of transportation had on my opportunities to see my mother in prison. It is critical for children to maintain bonds with their parents — and beyond their rights to phone calls and letters. Cutting off any right to see, touch, and hold a parent is literally cutting off a lifeline. Bringing back the family visiting buses would recreate that lifeline. It would eliminate an unnecessary barrier that so many children and families have endured during the last several years. It would help alleviate the pain that children already suffer as a result of a lost parent. It would ensure we, the children, do not become just another collateral consequence. We deserve a lifeline!”– Isabel Coronado, Policy Entrepreneur, Next100 


“The Coalition for Women Prisoners, a statewide alliance dedicated to making NY State's criminal justice system more responsive to the needs and rights of women and their families, understands first hand how important visits are for incarcerated mothers and their children. Mothers would be better able to maintain connections with their children during a period of incarceration if parents were placed in prisons close to their children and the Family Visiting Buses were restored. We believe that children have a right to visit an incarcerated parent, and incarcerated parents have a right to parent. NYS MUST PASS the Family Visiting Bus, Proximity, and Visiting Codification bills.” - The Coalition for Women Prisoners

See more about the rally at Bronx 12