Helping Mothers and Children Stay Connected–During and After Prison: Bringing the Family Reunion Program to Albion

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The Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) has begun the process of establishing a Family Reunion Program (FRP)–which allows incarcerated people to have extended, overnight visits with family–at Albion Correctional Facility, New York’s largest prison for women. Our Women in Prison Project, led by Director Tamar Kraft-Stolar, and its Coalition for Women Prisoners have long pressed for an FRP at Albion and, with the full support and efforts of DOCS Commissioner Brian Fischer, helped secure an allocation of $200,000 for the program in this year’s state budget.

By establishing this program at Albion–located near Rochester, more than eight hours from New York City–DOCS will enhance the limited opportunities many mothers currently have to stay connected with their families. Visiting programs also provide an incentive for people to maintain good behavior while in prison and help reduce recidivism by assisting with the post-release reunification process.

Albion’s FRP will fill another critical role. New York’s Adoption and Safe Families Act almost always requires foster care agencies to terminate parental rights if a child has been in foster care for 15 of the last 22 months. One exception to this rule allows the agency to refrain from filing termination papers if it documents a “compelling reason” why termination would not be in the child’s best interest. Albion’s FRP will increase opportunities for mothers to strengthen relationships with their children and show foster care caseworkers that maintaining mother-child bonds is central to a child’s well-being. The FRP will thereby help incarcerated mothers with children in foster care reduce the risk of losing their parental rights forever.