Advocates want free NY prison visitor bus back

Advocates for nearly 56,000 New York inmates and their families have urged the state to resume free bus service to its prisons, saying visits have dropped since it was discontinued last year and the savings of $1.5 million doesn't justify the social cost.

In a report earlier this year, the Vera Institute of Justice cited a Washington state corrections study showing prisoners who received regular family visits were six times less likely to commit prison violations. The institute also pointed to a 2010 research paper in the journal Sociology Compass showing that children who visit incarcerated parents have higher self-esteem and IQ scores and fewer behavioral problems than those who don't.

Corrections officials said visitor totals have declined only modestly and have even increased at some maximum-security prisons. They said the free buses were often half-empty and weren't attracting new riders. 

Meanwhile, they have launched "televisiting" between Albion prison in western New York and a Brooklyn site, with plans to expand the program to Auburn prison in central New York and to Chateaugay and Clinton prisons in northern New York.

"We recognize that visitation is an extremely important part of an inmate's rehabilitation and preparation for re-entry, and we're going to do everything we can to facilitate that," said corrections spokesman Peter Cutler.

At the nonprofit Osborne Association, an advocacy group working with the state on televisiting, Tanya Krupat said it's a good supplement but no replacement for personal visits. She disagreed with state officials and called decline of thousands of visits significant.

"We work on the human side," Krupat said. "I'm picturing the 10-year-old twins who haven't seen their dad. ... I have a 14-year-old who has not gotten to visit with her mom since the bus stopped."


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