“I Have to Hold My Family Together”: The Hidden Costs of Prison Visits

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From Truthout:

This story is the seventh piece in the Truthout series, Severed Ties: The Human Toll of Prisons. This series dives deeply into the impact of incarceration on families, loved ones and communities, demonstrating how the United States' incarceration of more than 2 million people also harms many millions more -- including 2.7 million children.

Most of the men in Carolyn Loveless’ family are (or have been) in prison. Currently, both of her sons are behind bars, as are her five nephews.

They are scattered in prisons across New York, from New York City, where most of the family is from, to Altona, a 15-minute drive from the US-Canada border, where one of Loveless’ sons is currently incarcerated.

Loveless, who first started visiting state prisons when she was 7, brought along by her grandmother to visit her grandfather upstate, still tries to visit almost everyone regularly, 40 years later.

Hardly any visits in recent memory, however, have been as special as the visit the 47-year-old left for on the night of Friday, May 12, she said. Two days before Mother’s Day, she was bound for Altona Correctional Facility to visit her son, currently incarcerated there.

“This is it,” Loveless told Truthout that night, as she waited for the 10 pm van picking her and about a dozen others up at 58th Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan. “This is the Mother’s Day visit.”

The occasion is one of the more important ones for families hoping to see relatives on the inside. During a holiday weekend when one might assume most mothers in New York City are enjoying breakfast in bed, brunch or a much-needed break, hundreds of women and children like Loveless — almost all Black and Brown, and mostly low-income — board commercial buses and vans from pick-up points in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx, all headed to New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) facilities upstate to see mothers, sons, daughters and other loved ones locked up hundreds of miles away.

The long, taxing tours aren’t cheap. In 2011, after 38 years of operation, New York ended its free bussing program to upstate correctional facilities, leaving tens of thousands who relied on the monthly service without an affordable alternative.

A year later, in 2012, visits to upstate centers had fallen by more than 13,000.

Moves away from free bussing programs have played out similarly in other states, too. Last year, Illinois’ free bussing program was also eliminated, becoming what some criminal legal reform proponents dubbed “a victim to partisan budgetary politics.” Legal services advocates there later spearheaded a massive fundraising campaign to help children visit their incarcerated parents. More and more states, advocates told Truthout, are likely to abandon similar programs in their states, especially as video-visitation and other tele-visiting technologies are increasingly adopted.

Like in Illinois and elsewhere, New York State corrections officials maintained that the free buses, which up until 2011 had been funded through surcharges on prison phone calls, were not utilized enough to justify the $1.25 million annual cost. Additionally, they claimed, visitor totals fell little following the cancellation of the shuttle program, and some maximum-security prisons saw increases in visits.

At the time, a spokesperson acknowledged that, “Visitation is an extremely important part of an inmate’s rehabilitation and preparation for reentry.” The department further pledged to do “everything” it could to facilitate visitation in the absence of the free buses.

Nearly five years since that promise, however, DOCCS cannot assess whether or not those efforts have paid off. It claims it does not know whether visitors to its prisons have increased or decreased.

Click on the Truthout link to read the entire article.