Visiting is a Lifeline Rally Supports Family Connection and Visiting

Visiting is a Lifeline Rally Supports Family Connection and Visiting

Young People, Families, Advocates, and Legislators Call for an End to Practices that Harm Children and Families Separated by Incarceration

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New York, NY - April 8, 2021Today, the Osborne Association Youth Action Council, young people who have experienced the incarceration of a parent, gathered to call for immediate action to pass a bill that would protect in-person visiting in New York State jails and prisons. Adults who experienced the incarceration of a parent as children, family members of the incarcerated, community members, and lawmakers joined the youth in solidarity. Sponsored by the New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents of the Osborne Association, Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood, WE GOT US NOW, and New Hour for Women and Children Long Island, the diverse and multi-generational crowd was joined by Assemblymember David I. Weprin, who sponsors the bill and chairs the Corrections Committee in Assembly, along with Senator Julia Salazar who chairs the Senate Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Correction.

There are approximately 105,000 children across New York State with a parent in prison or jail. Most of these children deeply miss and want to visit their mothers or fathers. With Covid, it’s been one whole year since children could visit with their parents on Rikers, and in many other county jails, and seven months without visits for children whose parents are in State prison. Children and families are rightfully concerned that in-person visiting will not be fully restored.


The Protect In-Person Visiting Bill (S2841A/A4250) enshrines in state law that incarcerated people and their children and families have the right to in-person visits, ensuring that video calls cannot replace in-person visits. Passing this bill now is critical because more jails are implementing video conferencing during the pandemic and may be financially incentivized to favor fee-for-service video visits after the pandemic is over. This bill protects existing in-person visiting practices in NYS prisons and strengthens visiting practices in county jails by requiring weekend or evening visiting hours so that children and families do not have to miss school or work to visit. The bill supports families and promotes public safety; visiting is associated with stronger family bonds and reduced recidivism rates. The New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents and Osborne Association’s Youth Action Council call for quick passage of the Protect In-Person Visiting bill before the New York State Assembly and Senate.

“I am proud to be the prime sponsor of the Protect In-Person Visiting Bill, which will ensure that New York’s correctional facilities cannot reduce or eliminate in-person visiting. Not only does this impact the incarcerated individuals, but also their families. I care about the need that a child has to see his or her parent face-to-face. An electronic screen is no substitute for in-person visiting. Furthermore, studies show that in-person visiting reduces recidivism rates. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic reminded us how valuable in-person visiting is,” said Assemblymember David Weprin, Chair of the Corrections Committee.

“Children and families shouldn’t have to miss school or work in order to visit their incarcerated loved ones. It’s urgent that the legislature pass the Protect In-Person Visiting bill to allow for weekend and evening visiting hours and to ensure that the loved ones of incarcerated people can safely visit them in person. Video conferencing may be convenient for some, but fee-for-service video visits create another financial barrier and additional stress for many families. I look forward to seeing the Protect In-Person Visiting bill pass through our committee and through the Senate again this year to protect in-person visitation, and to further expand visitation hours to more accessible times.” State Senator Julia Salazar

“As youth who have or had an incarcerated parent, we know first hand that not having access to in-person visiting can leave us confused and saddened. When children don’t get to see their parents because in-person visiting is not an option, they may think their parent doesn’t want to talk to them when in reality it is that they have no choice. Children should not be punished by not having the choice to see their parents. In-person visiting is important to maintaining a healthy and loving relationship with our parents. There is nothing like seeing your parent in person. Period. We urge the NYS legislature to See Us and Support Us by passing bill A4250/S2841A immediately.” The Osborne Association Youth Action Council

“As someone who raised my children in prison visiting rooms, I know all too well burdens that families of incarcerated people face. In-person visiting was a vital lifeline for me, my children, and their father, yet it has remained closed at places like Rikers Island for more than a year. The Protect In-Person Visiting Bill will ensure that all incarcerated people and their families have the right to in-person visits and that for-profit video conferencing equipment does not displace the right for families to be together in a visiting room,” said Osborne Association President and CEO Elizabeth Gaynes. “We thank Assemblymember David Weprin for being a powerful advocate and sponsor of this bill, all the legislators who are working to end practices that harm children and families separated by incarceration, and our many colleagues who have worked for so many years to pass this legislation.”

“It is so important for children to visit an incarcerated parent in person that the Children of Incarcerated Parents’ Bill of Rights created by young people states, “I have the right to speak with, see, and touch my parent.” Due to the pandemic, everyone can now understand that video conferencing is a great supplement to in-person visiting, but nothing can replace seeing someone in person. The New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents calls on the State to not only protect in-person visiting by immediately passing bill A4250/S2841A, but to also offer free video visiting in all NYS prisons. By doing so, children’s wellbeing will be supported, and incarcerated parents will be more likely to succeed when they come home.” Allison Hollihan, New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents

“WE GOT US NOW advocates to support safeguarding In-Person Visits for children with incarcerated parents in New York State prisons and jails. The emotional, physical, and mental anxiety of not being able to hug, touch, or see our parents, coupled with the costs to stay connected via communication services, is inhumane, harmful, and increases the strain of parental separation for children with parents behind bars. This proposed legislation will ensure that In-Person Visits will never be taken away from a child when their parent is incarcerated.” Ebony Underwood, WE GOT US NOW, Founder/CEO

“As the adult daughter of a formerly incarcerated parent, I know firsthand the importance of in-person visits. I was fortunate enough to visit with my father regularly during his eight-year sentence. Perhaps I was also fortunate that video visits weren’t an option in the late 1990s. In-person visits were something that my father, my sister, and I looked forward to. It was the only opportunity that we had to hug, kiss, take pictures and play card games together. If in-person visits weren’t available to us, my younger sister would not have experienced a hug from our father until the age of 8, and I’d have no recollection of my very first hugs with him as a toddler. Children have the right to see and touch their parents. There is no substitute for in-person visits.” Amanda Acevedo, Reentry Specialist at New Hour Long Island

“One lesson we have all learned during the pandemic is that virtual communication can’t beat the real thing. Measures that reduce or eliminate in-person visits are harmful to incarcerated adults. They also unfairly penalize young people and families who, through no fault of their own, will miss life-affirming opportunities to share and experience love. Strong family bonds are critical for healthy development. We must do all we can to strengthen meaningful human contact for children whose connection to their loved ones is already disrupted by incarceration.” Ronald E. Richter, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, JCCA

“Long Island Social Justice Action Network is proud to support the Osborne Association Youth Action Council. Many of our members are directly impacted by the pain that incarceration creates for families. We know that it is vital and necessary for children to have direct in-person contact with their incarcerated parents, and that video conferencing cannot take its place. In-person visiting can be done safely, and must be protected.” Shoshana Hershkowitz, Long Island Social Justice Network

“Protecting in-person visiting is crucial in supporting the well-being of both incarcerated individuals and their families. While video visiting provides a useful tool for keeping families connected, it should never replace in-person, contact visits between incarcerated individuals and their families.” Joan E. Hunt, Executive Director, Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood

“Visiting is so important to the well-being and improves mental health and wellness outcomes of the incarcerated,” Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus, a social worker and mental health clinician of over 20 years, said. “Continuing to allow for in-person visiting at New York’s jails and prisons will allow visitors, including children of incarcerated parents, to retain the bonds of familial and personal relationships and access to services.”


“We’ve seen the psychological and emotional toll of the pandemic due to isolation and social distancing. Our little ones are the hardest hit and have had a tough time coping, which is why in-person visits must continue in NYS prisons and local jails. No video conference can replace seeing a loved one in person, hearing their voice, and sharing space that is not confined to a screen. Many families cannot afford to purchase internet, let alone devices to sustain video conferencing. Rather than create opportunities for families who can pay to see their loved ones, make access a right everyone deserves instead of a privilege only a few can afford.” Tanvier Peart, Just Recovery Coordinator, Partnership for the Public Good

Formerly incarcerated mothers participating in programs offered by Hour Children share how important in-person visits are for their families and their own well-being while incarcerated. Tawana Anthony states, “In person visits provide a level of intimacy that cannot be reproduced via video. As a mother who spent 10 years in prison, I can assure you that there is no substitute for live hugs, love, and laughter.” Veronica Blyther shares “visiting is important because it helps to maintain the family bond, and it also has the ability to keep the incarcerated individual out of trouble because they would feel like they had something to lose.” And, Makeda Davis shares that “visiting at the facilities are important because it is an incarcerated person’s only outlet to the current world and human contact from the people they love. Depriving the incarcerated of visits is depriving these individuals of life, and that would never be conducive to rehabilitation.”

 

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One in 28 children in the U.S. has an incarcerated parent on any given day—more than 105,000 children in New York State have a parent in jail or prison. The racial disparities inherent in the current criminal justice system extend to children: 1 in 9 African-American children, 1 in 28 Latino children, and 1 in 57 White children have an incarcerated parent. Maintaining family ties during incarceration decreases recidivism, and supports family reunification and children’s well-being.

The Osborne Association’s New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents (NYCIP) convenes more than 60 agencies and community and faith-based partners throughout the state to advance policies and practices that support children of incarcerated parents and their families. NYC raises awareness about this often-overlooked population of children and elevates their strong, wise, and resilient voices.