The 80,000 children of New York state whose parents are locked up in distant state correctional institutions might have an easier time visiting mom or dad under a bill sitting on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk.
That’s because the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision would be required to hold parents in the nearest facility to their minor children’s home that can provide the inmate with the appropriate level of security, health and programming.
If the Democratic governor signs the so-called “proximity bill” (also known as April’s Bill after the girl who inspired it years ago), advocates say it should help maintain family ties that are good for both children and parents.
Currently, many parents and children on the outside find it hard to make regular visits to prisons located sometimes hundreds of miles away from home. Many don’t have a car and must take a bus, and as a result some children might go years without ever visiting with the loved one behind bars, advocates say.
“Most children need to see their parents while separated from them due to incarceration,” said Tanya Krupat, on behalf of the N.Y. Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents, a statewide collaborative coordinated by the Osborne Center for Justice Across Generations. “This bill is especially critical for incarcerated mothers, as New York only has two medium-security prisons for women – one downstate and one in Western New York. Prioritizing proximity for these mothers could have a positive, life-changing impact on their children. We urge the governor to sign this bill into law now.”
The legislation, S724A/A6710, was carried through the state Senate by Democrat Velmanette Montgomery, who spent years pushing April’s Bill and other family-supporting prison reforms with the help of the Osborne Association, a Brooklyn charity that seeks to transform the lives of people caught up in the criminal justice system. The bill passed both legislative houses last week.
“Consistent in-person visitation is the single most important factor in whether a family will reunite after a prison term,” said Montgomery, who spearheaded key child welfare legislation last year. “It reduces the strain of separation on everyone involved and lowers the chances of recidivism.”
In 2011, Montgomery met with three young people from the Osbourne Youth Action Council whose parents were locked up in distant institutions.
One of those kids was Alonicha (April) Triana, now a graduate of the Osborne Association’s Youth Action Council, whose experience inspired Montgomerey to name the legislation after her.
“So many kids have parents incarcerated far away,” said Triana, expressing her pleasure that April’s Bill is one short step from becoming law. “When my mom was incarcerated, it was so hard to visit her. I’d had her in my life my whole life, I was used to her being with me, and now I couldn’t see her. … I don’t want other kids to go through what I went through when I couldn’t get to my mom.”