AuburnPub: Eye on NY: NY Legislators Eye 7-day Visitation at Medium Security Prisons, Bus Service for Inmate Families
TUESDAY, JUNE 13, 2017

The Legal Aid Society voiced support for legislation this week that would restore weekday visits at medium-security prisons. The legislation would also expand bus service for low-income families to better access incarcerated relatives at these facilities.

Eye on NY: NY Legislators Eye 7-day Visitation at Medium Security Prisons, Bus Service for Inmate Families
Robert Harding
June 11, 2017

Two state Assembly members are pushing to restore seven-day visitation at medium security correctional facilities and weekend bus service for families visiting inmates at prisons across the state.

Assemblyman David Weprin, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Correction, is the sponsor of legislation that would adjust the visitation schedule at medium security facilities.

The policy in effect at medium security facilities permits visitors on weekends and holidays. This would bring visitation in line with maximum security prisons, which have a seven-day schedule.

Weprin said in a phone interview Thursday that the measure is in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal released earlier this year that would slash the visitation schedule at maximum security facilities.

Cuomo's plan, which was included in his executive budget proposal, wasn't supported by the state Legislature. It wasn't included in the final state budget agreement adopted in April.

Weprin's bill is in response to feedback about the existing visitation policy at medium security prisons. He's heard that visits are often cut off and the visiting rooms are often overcrowded.

"We want to encourage family members to visit inmates," he said.

He doesn't expect increasing visitation at medium security facilities will have a major budget impact. He noted that the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, which oversees New York's correctional facilities, has a $3 billion budget.

Increasing visitation at medium security prisons, he estimated, would result in a "modest increase."

Caroline Hsu, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society's Prisoners' Rights Project in New York City, said the visitation change would not only help inmates, but keep prisons calmer and safer.

"DOCCS talks a lot about support reentry and DOCCS talks a lot about supporting families," she said. "But what DOCCS is doing on the ground seems to me very much the opposite. Restoring visitation to the mediums would be doing something — an obvious thing — that would show that they genuinely mean what they say when they talk about supporting families."

DOCCS declined to comment for this story, citing a policy of not commenting on proposed legislation.

Another member of the Assembly Correction Committee, Assemblywoman Carmen De La Rosa, proposed a bill that would restore bus service for visitors traveling to meet with family members who are being held in correctional facilities across the state.

The program was in place until 2011. Weekend bus service was provided from Albany, New York City, Rochester and Syracuse to every prison. It was eliminated in 2011.

De La Rosa said the state saved $1.5 million by cutting bus service for inmate families. Under her plan, the state would offer no less than free bi-monthly transportation to correctional facilities.

"There are close to 100,000 children in our New York state who have an incarcerated parent," she said. "When you look at communities who have families that have been historically and disproportionately affected by criminal justice polices in our state, it is incumbent upon us to find solutions that foster a family's ability to maintain relationships."

Weprin's bill has been approved by his Assembly committee and another, the codes committee. De La Rosa's measure has also been approved by the committees on correction and ways and means.

It's unclear whether the measures will be adopted before the end of the legislative session this month. Weprin is hopeful that the bills will pass the state Legislature before lawmakers head back to their districts. If not, he said the proposals may be included in the Assembly's budget next year.

This article originally appeared on AuburnPub.