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How Prison Visitation Cuts Devastate Families

Buried in the New York state budget is a proposal to cut weekday visits for over 20,000 inmates. For families of incarcerated people, this could mean barely having any real contact with their loved ones.

by Victoria Law
Mar 22 2017, 6:50pm

Jenise Britt sees her husband at Sing Sing, one of New York's 17 maximum-security prisons, at least twice a week. From her job in Bryant Park, it's only a short walk to Grand Central and the 7:19 train to Ossining. She tries to visit on weekdays to avoid the more crowded weekends, when the noise and nearby bodies make intimate conversations nearly impossible. The twice-weekly visits help the couple remain close despite her husband's 18-to-life sentence and the fact that his first parole hearing isn't until 2024.

But New York governor Andrew Cuomo's proposed budget means that Britt—and other family members—will have no choice but to contend with crowds, longer waits and the possibility of shorter visits to see their incarcerated loved ones. Buried in the governor's budget is a proposal to reduce the number of visiting days in maximum-security prisons from seven to just Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, a move that he told Democrats would save the state $2.6 million by eliminating 39 staff positions. Family members and advocates say the cuts will discourage visiting with more crowded visiting rooms, longer waits, and shorter visits, impacting relationships already strained by lengthy prison sentences.

"I don't think that's fair," said 16-year-old Margarita, whose father has been incarcerated since she was three or four years old. "If we have a vacation during the week, we want to see our parents." She recalls going to visit her father two days before her 15th birthday. "Usually, if we talk on the phone, it's like, 'Happy birthday. Have fun,'" she recalled. But that day, they spent several hours together talking, walking around the outside visiting area and playing Monopoly. "Kids—they want to see their parents more," she added. "[These cuts] are just taking away time from our parents."

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