Youth Action Council take to Albany advocating for bills that would improve communication between loved ones and the incarcerated. Credit: Osbourne Association photo

Young people want the state government to give them more access to loved ones serving time in prisons.

As part of its annual Advocacy Day, members of the Youth Action Council took to Albany last month to call for the state legislature to pass the Protect In-Person Visiting bill ((S2841A/ A4250A) and the Connecting Families bill (S3512A/ A3096A).

According to the language of the latter bill, sponsored by New York State Sen. Jamaal Bailey, any voice communication to the incarcerated should be free and agencies “charged with the operation and management of state and local correctional facilities and juvenile detention facilities to provide persons in their custody with voice communication service at a minimum of 90 minutes per day.”

The justification? It hurts poor New Yorkers the most.

“Most incarcerated New Yorkers have low low-incomes and are least able to pay to keep in touch with their families, friends and clergy,” read part of the bill. “The cost of daily calls can be a strain on a family’s finances. Families shouldn’t have to choose between paying their utility or food bill and speaking to their loved one.

“Telephone calls allow parents and guardians to keep in touch with their children and help keep families intact after the incarcerated individual is released. It can be a critical lifeline for families and the incarcerated person.”

The former bill, sponsored by New York State Sen. Luis R. Sepúlveda, establishes a permanent visitation program for the incarcerated. Currently, in-person visits aren’t protected by state law.

Youth Council Action members, ages 15 to 17 and who have experienced the difficulties in communicating with the incarcerated, trekked to as many assembly member and state senator offices as they could, doing in-person canvassing work to get both bills passed this legislative session.

Two Youth Action Council members spoke about the importance of the visit and the bills.

Youth Action Council Member Ayana said, “Visiting in-person is important for people who want to see an incarcerated family member. Children with incarcerated parents have a right to speak with, see, and touch a parent and this right must be protected.

“Visiting allows for families to have important conversations and bond, and reassures children that their parents are okay.”

Osborne Youth Action Council Member Rafiq detailed what he deemed to be a bad experience on Rikers Island.

“Ten years ago my sister and I were able to visit my mom at Rikers, but we were not able to visit her regularly when she was transferred to Albion Correctional, eight hours away,” said Rafiq. “I was so relieved to see my mother again after so much time had passed and to see her laugh and smile. Virtual visits never felt the same as seeing my mother in person. We ask the New York State legislature to pass the Protect In-Person immediately so that virtual visits cannot replace in-person visiting.”

Youth Action Council members rallied in front of the State Capitol in late April holding up several picket signs.

One read, “Communities not Cages.”

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