Family Visits Bus Trips
Many children of inmates are unable to visit their incarcerated parents because of transportation and financial limitations.

In response, Children of Inmates provides free quarterly Bonding Visits for children and their caregivers in Miami, Jacksonville and Tampa and other parts of Florida to more than a dozen corrections institutions. We also offer video-conference visitations for our families and their loved ones in jail or corrections institutions.

At each three to four hour Bonding Visit, children and their incarcerated parents sit around tables in secure rooms and read books, put together puzzles, do arts-and-crafts projects, and play board games -- activities structured to encourage conversations, laughter, and hugs. Play mats have been introduced to allow little children to crawl, roll and giggle with their parents. The families also enjoy a family meal and take part in a civics educational activity to, again, create bonding and learning.

Following each visit, our children find stuffed animals awaiting them on the bus. And rather than going straight home, they detour to either a bowling alley or skating rink as a way to ease anxieties from separating again from their incarcerated parents as well as to build community ties with other children in their situations. Trained counselors accompany the children and are available throughout the trips for guidance and support.

Our Bonding Visits are in great demand.

They give considerable access for children to their incarcerated parents. The special visits provide a safe, child-oriented environment that regular visitation in correctional setting cannot allow. Children are able to touch, hug, and be held by their incarcerated parent. That’s critical since over 42 percent of participating children have not seen their incarcerated fathers or mothers -- or both -- in months, even years. During one trip, we learned that nine of the 12 children on the bus had not seen their parent in more than three years.

How does this happen?

More than 60 percent of parents in state prison and more than 80 percent of parents in federal prison are incarcerated more than 100 miles from their last place of residence (Sentencing Project, 2009). And so, for many families, it’s often not financially impossible to make the long trips to visit their loved ones in prison.

Here’s a case and point: two of the correctional institutions we visit are near Ocala, more than 300 miles from downtown Miami. Three other prisons we visit are more than 150 miles away.

We calculated that for Miami-Dade County grandparents who are raising two children, the cost for a trip to Ocala is about $350 (overnight motel, food, tolls, and gas). Without our program, these families would not be able to visit the institutions, thus preventing their children from being able to bond – and receive the attention and love – of their father or mother.

Besides distance, other communication barriers also exist.

Phone calls between inmates and their families may only be made if a special account is in place to pay for the call. For many families, these are calls are expensive and can’t be made frequently.

To reduce these costs, we created video-conference visitations. These 30-minute sessions between children and their incarcerated parents are done via the computer, for free, from our Care Coordination Centers to the correctional institutions.

Families that participate regularly are reporting positive experiences and the children are experiencing closer ties to their parent. There’s a waiting list of Florida correctional institutions wanting to participate in our video conferencing program.