Called April’s Bill or the “proximity bill,” the legislation has been pushed by Montgomery since 2011 when he met Alonicha “April” Triana at the Osborne Association Youth Action Council (OAYAC). April’s parents were locked up in prisons too far away for her to visit. Montgomery said family visitation was important for those in prison. “Consistent in-person visitation is the single most important factor in whether a family will reunite after a prison term,” he said. “It reduces the strain of separation on everyone involved and lowers the chances of recidivism.”
April, now a graduate of OAYAC, said she was pleased the bill passed. “So many kids have parents incarcerated far away,” she stated. “When my mom was incarcerated, it was so hard to visit her. I’d had her in my life my whole life, I was used to her being with me, and now I couldn’t see her…. I don’t want other kids to go through what I went through when I couldn’t get to my mom.”
The bill, which was passed with bipartisan support, will require the DOCCS to evaluate incoming prisoners with children living in the state and place them in prisons closest to the children where possible, “provided that such placement is suitable and appropriate, would facilitate increased contact between such person and his or her child or children, is in the best interest of such child or children, and the incarcerated parent gives his or her consent to such placement,” the bill stated.
New York state has more than 80,000 children with at least one parent in prison. Advocates say that sometimes the parent is housed hundreds of miles away making visitation difficult, if not impossible, since many families of prisoners do not have vehicles and must rely on buses for transportation. Children are oftentimes unable to visit their parents for years.
“Most children need to see their parents while separated from them due to incarceration,” observed Tanya Krupat of the New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents. “This bill is especially critical for incarcerated mothers, as New York only has two medium-security prisons for women—one downstate and one in Western New York. Prioritizing proximity for these mothers could have positive, life-changing impact on their children.”
The bill calls for the DOCCS to submit an annual report to the senate and the senate appointed committees on crime detailing the number of cases acted on by the department, what actions were taken, and reasons placement was denied if this was the action taken. Parents with more than one child who do not reside together required separate determination for each child applicable.
How realistic the bill is remains to be seen. Over 70% of New York prisoners come from the five boroughs that make up New York City in the Southern part of the state while the vast majority of the state’s prisons are hundreds of miles away in the Northern part of the state.
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