State lawmakers on Wednesday advanced a bill out of the Assembly Correction Committee that is meant to bolster rights of family, friends and volunteers to visit incarcerated people in New York.
At the same time, lawmakers are warning against the use of video conferencing as a substitute for in-person, face-to-face visitations.
"This bill is about protecting families," said Assemblyman David Weprin. "Families have a right to see one another in-person. No child should have to miss school to see his or her parent. Visiting is a fundamental aspect of the rehabilitation process. Studies show that in-person visiting reduces recidivism rates, which is something we can all stand behind."
The measure in essence would set a visitation program in state law. While the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has allowed for people to be visited while incarcerated, the state does not have a formal, legally binding program.
Lawmakers in support of the measure pointed to the benefits of allowing visits, such as boosting good behavior and morale while protecting safety within the facilities in the process. The measure also has the backing of prison reform advocates.
“As someone who raised my children in prison visiting rooms, I know all too well the burdens that families of incarcerated people face. In-person visiting was a vital lifeline for me, my children, and their father, yet it has remained closed at places like Rikers Island for more than a year," said Osborne Association President and CEO Elizabeth Gaynes. "The Protect In-Person Visiting Bill will ensure that all incarcerated people and their families have the right to in-person visits and that for-profit video conferencing equipment does not displace the right for families to be together in a visiting room."