Issues and Facts
  • It’s All About the Children: Importance of Making Correctional Facilities’ Meeting Rooms Less-Intimating

    Posted on   10/10/2014  5:04 PM

    On our first bonding visit to a correctional facility, we learned the importance of the environmental factors the hard way.

    Grandparents took their grandchildren to see their incarcerated parents who the children had not seen in two years. The grandparents did not tell the children where they were going. While waiting outside the facility, a 10-year-old boy asked two of our staff members: “Where are we – they must keep mean animals in there?” About 15 seconds later, he saw his parent walk in.

    The moment brought tears to all of us.

    Since then, we have tried to make prison visitation rooms less intimating, at least during the time of our bonding visits.

    For our baby visits (0-9-years-old), we are able to move the tables and chairs around to make space for baby mats that welcome and respect the child’s perspective. We create an environment where incarcerated parents are guided to get on the floor with their young children and hold them, play with them and make them laugh.

    In general, our program partners regularly bring in temporary decorations and change the room layouts to make the environment more welcoming for children and their caregivers. Our use of colorful baby mats, inexpensive bright table clothes, and other portable decorations helps us to break up the feeling of being locked in. Further, we worked with the correctional facilities to allow families to sit on the floor, walk around and reconfigure their seating arrangements, all of which has improved family bonding and removed the starkness of the settings.

    Less intimidating and well-designed visitation areas can put the children at ease. They can be designed to allow children to disconnect from trying to understand the realities of their parents or caregivers being held in prison; children need this option because they cannot fully understanding the rationale and reasons for their parents’ circumstance. For children in particular, visitation areas can be made more conducive to bonding (talking, smiling and hugging) rather than being stark areas that have a sense of being trapped, watched and controlled.

    We certainly understand why visitation rooms look the way they do. Correctional facilities state that they follow these designs for security purposes. The purpose of the standardize approach is focused on ensuring safety for everyone in the visiting room, particularly the visitors.

    Still, efforts are being made to create more child friendly environments. Many of the facilities we visit have colorful murals. There are also occasional shelves with books for children to read. And some visiting rooms have vending machines as part of the inmate commissary programs but often these machines are enclosed in bars, making them intimidating.

    Despite the constraints, we have been impressed with corrections staffers’ attempts to make the best situation possible for our specific child focused visitations.

    We hope the same can be said for many other correctional facilities.

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