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Legislative Memo: In Opposition to the Proposal to Change Maximum Security Correctional Facilities Visitation Schedule

March 27, 2017

Dear Governor Cuomo,

We write in regards to your proposal to reduce the number of visitation days in maximum security facilities in New York.[1] The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) commends efforts by your office and the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) to institute reforms that both protect the well-being of incarcerated individuals and enhance public safety.

Some of these reforms include policies against shackling pregnant women, and implementing more humane and equitable standards governing solitary confinement. Consequently, we were profoundly disappointed to learn of this proposal to reduce visitation from seven days to three days per week, and we urge you to reconsider your position and maintain the current seven days per week visiting schedule at maximum security facilities.

Impact on families and correctional staff
DOCCS clearly recognizes the importance of visitation, acknowledging that “[r]esearch has shown that an offender who receives regular visitation adjusts much better once he or she is released from prison when the privilege is used to maintain a positive relationship.”[2] Moreover, DOCCS has received national praise for its current maximum security visitation policy.[3]

Numerous studies demonstrate the importance of visitation for incarcerated people and their families because it, among other things, supports those relationships, especially between parents who are incarcerated and their children,[4] and reduces the likelihood of recidivism.[5] The American Correctional Association, a 146-year-old organization for correctional professionals,[6] which also provides accreditation for DOCCS facilities,[7] also supports family visitation.[8] Additionally, there is research that demonstrates that more visitation reduces the likelihood of misconduct in the prison,[9] thereby making prisons safer[10] and supervision more manageable for corrections officers.

Disproportionate impact on women
The NYCLU is concerned that this change in policy may have a disproportionate impact on women for two reasons: (1) Bedford Hills, the maximum security facility for women, is located downstate and thus tends to have many visitors during the week, [11] and (2) women who have incarcerated loved ones bear most of the burden for sustaining and supporting their families, especially women of color. [12] Indeed, one report uncovered that, of family members responsible for covering the costs of calls and visits, women account for 87% of those members.[13]

While incarceration poses serious challenges for parents regardless of their gender, and their children, a survey of seven prisons in New York, including Bedford Hills, uncovered significant differences between mothers and fathers. The report by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services found that 67% of women reported being the caretaker of their children prior to incarceration as compared to 49% of men.[14]

Furthermore, when a mother is incarcerated, only 25% reported that the fathers were now the caretakers of their children as compared to 65% of incarcerated fathers who reported that their children lived with their mothers.[15] Thus, as mentioned above, women in the communities bear most of the family responsibilities. Given your support for the Women’s Equality Agenda and other legislation that supports women and their families, we hope that you would not make it more onerous for women who are incarcerated and for women who must facilitate visits for their loved ones who are incarcerated.

Considering these financial and other challenges endured mostly by women, particularly women of color, the NYCLU finds the cost-savings rationale submitted- that the state will save approximately $2.6 million out of a recommended budget of approximately $3.3 billion (an $81 million increase over last year)-[16] to be incredulous. Several years ago, the state eliminated the bus program for families visiting their loved ones who were incarcerated and that was justified by an estimated $1.5 million cost savings.[17]

Additionally, visitation days were reduced in medium security facilities for budgeting purposes, which has resulted in overcrowding in many facilities causing many of those visits to be cut short,[18] if the visitor gets to see their loved one at all. How many families of incarcerated people in New York will be forced to shoulder the burden of the state’s questionable budgeting strategies? The costs to these families, most of which are already members of marginalized communities, and to society far exceed these purported savings.

Technology is not a replacement
During his testimony at the 2017 Joint Budget Hearing-Public Protection,[19] DOCCS Acting Commissioner Anthony Annucci reiterated the importance of family support for incarcerated people, and detailed other ways in which DOCCS is facilitating these relationships. These methods include, but are not limited to, efforts involving greater phone access and instituting a secure messaging system.

In a recent news article, Morris Peters, a spokesperson for the Division of Budget, stated that video conferencing would be expanded.[20] We fully support technological enhancements to maintaining supportive familial and community contacts, but these modalities should not become replacements for in-person interactions.[21]

The NYCLU implores you to continue to put New York families first, as you have done with other legislation, such as Paid Family Leave and raising the minimum wage. The families affected by incarceration deserve the state’s support and protection like all other New York families.

For the aforementioned reasons, the NYCLU requests that you not only maintain the current visiting schedule for maximum security facilities, but that you reinstate the daily visiting schedule at medium security facilities, and begin prioritizing the placement of people who are incarcerated in facilities that are near their homes.

Should you wish to discuss this matter in further detail, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Respectfully submitted,


Bernadette E. Brown, Deputy Legislative Director
Rashida Richardson, Legislative Counsel
Philip Desgranges, Staff Attorney
Erin Beth Harrist, Senior Staff Attorney
Beth Haroules, Senior Staff Attorney
Noah Breslau, Legal Investigator

[1] Cuomo, Andrew M. and Robert F. Mujica Jr. FY 2018 Executive Budget 109. New York State, Office of the Governor. (2017). Available at:

[2] Handbook for the Families and Friends of New York State DOCCS Offenders. New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. (July 2015). Available at: Accessed March 17, 2017.

[3] Boudin, Chesa, Trevor Stutz and Aaron Littman. “Prison Visitation Policies: A Fifty-State Survey.” Yale Law & Policy Review, Vol.32 no.1(2013): 161. “Overall, New York State’s maximum security prisons provide perhaps the most welcoming visitation policy, allowing for up to six hours of visits 365 days per year and overnight visits approximately every two months.” Available at: Accessed March 6, 2017.

[4] New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents. “Proximity to Children: Why Being Close to Home Matters.” Osbourne Association. (March 2013). Available at:

[5] See generally, the Prison Policy Initiative, Also see, Rabuy, Bernadette and Daniel Kopf. Separation by Bars and Miles: Visitation in State Prisons. Prison Policy Initiative. (Oct. 2015). Available at Accessed March 17, 2017.

[6] “About Us.” The American Correctional Association. Available at: Accessed March 17, 2017.

[7] “Nine DOCCS Facilities Receive National Accreditation Honors.” New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (2016). Available at:

[8] “Supporting Family-Friendly Communication and Visitation Policies.” Resolution of the American Correctional Association. Adopted at ACA Winter Conference. San Antonio, TX (Feb. 1st, 2010) (Updated Jan. 24, 2012). Available at: Accessed March 17, 2017.

[9] See note 3 at 152.

[10] Id.

[11] See testimony of Tammy Sawchuk, Executive Vice President, New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, Inc., 2017 Joint Budget Hearing-Public Protection, Albany, NY. (January 31, 2017) (discussing facility location and stating that facilities located in the southern part of the state, like Sing Sing and Bedford Hills, might have more visits as compared to facilities located elsewhere in the state.). Available at: Accessed March 17, 2017. Additionally, NYCLU has received reports from advocates and family members of people who are incarcerated that visitation rooms at Bedford Hills and Sing Sing are usually busy during the week.

[12] deVuono-powell, Saneta, Chris Schweidler, Alicia Walters and  Azadeh Zohrabi. Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families 9. Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, et al. (September 2015). Available at: After examining a range of negative impacts of incarceration including financial costs, mental and physical health, housing and employment, the authors concluded that “[t]hese impacts hit women of color and their families more substantially than others, deepening inequities and societal divides that have pushed many into the criminal justice system in the first place. Almost one in every four women and two of five Black women are related to someone who is incarcerated.” 

[13] Id. at 30.

[14] Greene, Jacquelyn. Children of Incarcerated Parents in New York State: A Data Analysis 13. NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services. (2013). Available at:

[15] Id.

[16] Report of the Senate Finance Committee. Staff Analysis of FY2018 Executive Budget 78-79. (Jan.23, 2017). Available at:

[17] The Associated Press. “Advocates Want Free Bus Service to State Prisons Reinstated.” (Aug. 6, 2012). Available at: Accessed March 17, 2017. See also note 4.

[18] See testimony of Michael Powers, President, New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, Inc., Joint Budget Hearing-Public Protection, Albany, NY. (January 31, 2017). Available at: Accessed March 17, 2017. Additionally, many advocates and family members of incarcerated people have informed NYCLU of these conditions.

[19] See testimony of Anthony Annucci, Acting Commissioner, New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. Joint Budget Hearing-Public Protection, Albany, NY. (January 31, 2017). Available at: Accessed March 17, 2017.

[20] “NY May Cut Prison Visitation Days.” (March 8, 2017). Available at Accessed March 15, 2017.

[21] Rabuy, Bernadette and Peter Wagner. Screening Out Family Time: The For-Profit Video Visitation Industry in Prisons and Jails. The Prison Policy Initiative. (Jan. 2015). Available at Report focuses mostly on video visitation. Accessed March 17, 2017.

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