Bronx pols propose new legislation that would house some incarcerated parents closer to their children
For two years, Griffin and her mother barely saw each other. The trip was too long, expensive and exhausting for the Castle Hill teenager, and the experience was hard on both parent and child.
"It was so sad and I was just a student at the time," said Griffin, 22. "Being far away from your family can drive you crazy."
But new state legislation proposed by Bronx pols could change where New York prisoners with children are housed.
State Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera and state Sen. Gustavo Rivera recently introduced bills that would establish a pilot program for 60 parents to be incarcerated near their children.
Rivera and Rivera argue the program would benefit children, parents and society at large because research shows that close family ties reduce recidivism.
"The data tells us that when parents are connected to their children they want to come back to society and become productive members of society," said Gustavo Rivera (Bronx-West Bronx).
Zaida Sanchez, Griffin's mother, spent two years at Albion Correctional Facility in Orleans County for drunk driving.
"The more you see your children...the more you want to get home and do the right thing," said Sanchez, 50. "You don't want to destroy your relationship again."
The numbers seem daunting. More than 73% of incarcerated women are mothers and roughly 100,000 New York children have a parent in prison, according to Naomi Rivera (D-East Bronx).
Yet the state Department of Corrections makes no provisions for parents when it assigns them to prisons across New York.
Most women with multi-year sentences spend time at Albion.
But advocates and analysts believe Corrections has the space and resources it would need to accommodate at least some parents.
The state prison system was packed with roughly 70,000 inmates 10 years ago and downstate prisoners accounted for the bulk of the population, said Edward Rosario, of the Correctional Association of New York.
In 2000, it would have been difficult to find space for downstate parents near their children.
But today the system has shrunk closer to 50,000 inmates, said Rosario, and some 40% of inmates hail from upstate regions, added Tanya Krupat, of the Osbourne Association.
The state could prioritize certain incarcerated parents, such as inmates with children in foster care who can prove they would receive more visits. "Some shifting around could be done," she said.
When her mother was at Albion, Veronica Hooper, 20, barely saw her. But when her parent was moved to Beacon Correctional Facility in Dutchess County, she visited nearly every week.
Rosario said the bills could face pushback from upstate pols concerned about losing prison jobs and from bureaucrats.
But he said the legislation would save the state money in the long run by keeping parents from returning to prison.