New York state used to provide free bus service to its prisons for inmates family members until the program was canceled last year.
Advocates for 56,000 New York inmates are calling for renewal of the program, despite the states financial challenges. The service costs about $1.5 million.
Families of prisoners used the free bus service to renew ties with their incarcerated members through family visits.
Such visits help children cope with the absence of a parent, and give spouses a chance to touch base as well.
Most families cannot afford the bus tickets on a regular basis, or afford to include children on the visits.
A recent report from the Vera Institute of Justice noted a Washington state correction study that showed the value of family visits to raise prison morale and improve inmate behavior. Prisoners who received regular family visits were six times less likely to commit prison violations, the study found.
As for New Yorks bus service: Upwards of 25,000 people were using this program. It operated very much as a lifeline for children, said Tamar Kraft-Stolar of the Correctional Association of New York.
Some 80,000 children have a parent in state prison; more than 5,000 have a mother who is incarcerated, she said.
Rehabilitation of inmates is one important goal of incarceration. Family visits would seem to improve the chances of that happening. They provide an incentive to do better. They provide hope to inmates and their families.
The cost of busing people to state prisons is a price worth paying for that hope.