The public is interested in prison life. Television shows such as “Oz” and “Orange is the New Black” purport to depict life behind walls. Maybe these shows will alert the public to the scale of the correctional system, but they will do little to sensitize viewers to the hardships to families imposed by a prison sentence. Right now, there are 70 correctional facilities across New York state, housing approximately 70,000 offenders. Many prisoners are parents. The New York State Department of Corrections publishes a handbook for visitors to encourage families to stay connected.
The hope is that family support will help prisoners transition upon release. But, in reality most correctional facilities are located in upstate counties – ensuring a difficult and expensive trip for families who live downstate. Prisoners become more isolated and removed from society without community connection. Children of inmates also suffer being separated from their parents. Organizations to support children of incarcerated parents try to assist. See: the Children of Prisoners Library.
This year Assembly Bill A-02308-2013, if enacted, would establish a pilot project in which inmates who are parents of minor children would be placed in the correctional facility located closest to the residence of their children. A small step in the right direction.