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RIDOC Parent/Child Visitation Program Fosters Positive Relationships

CRANSTON, R.I. – December 24, 2007 – The Rhode Island Department of Corrections contracts with CCAP – Comprehensive Community Action Program, to provide visitation programs in several of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections’ sentenced facilities so that incarcerated parents and children can continue to have positive interaction. The Saturday morning Father Child Visitation Program, which has been in place at the Minimum Security and the Donald Price Medium Security facilities for some time, was recently launched in the John J. Moran Medium Security Facility.

“It takes a while for the guys to trust it,” says Coordinator of Parenting and Discharge Planning Sarah Gormley during a recent two-hour visit between about six Moran inmates and their kids, ranging in age from toddlers to middle schoolers. Unlike regular visiting hours where children have to sit still and aren’t able to play or run around, these Saturday visits allow the children to get down on the floor with their dads and play with a wide selection of donated or DOC-provided toys. The children are dropped off either by their mother, another relative or friend, or a DCYF social worker, at the facility’s front desk, where Gormley meets them and leads them to the Visiting Room. Dads can focus all of their attention on their kids with no other adult visitors present.

With the holidays approaching, this visit saw dads and their kids working on a Christmas “wish list” and taking special photos with dad, a copy of which will go to both the inmate and the child the following week. DOC volunteer Courtney Henderson, who approached the DOC wanting to help with this initiative, then takes the lists and shares them with friends, family members and co-workers, who then go out and purchase the items. Henderson then transports them (this year three carloads full) to the RIDOC where Gormley divides them up and take them to the various facilities to be wrapped by the inmates during the week and presented to the children the following Saturday. “It means a lot to the kids to feel like they’re really getting something from Dad,” she notes.

Richard Cote, whose sons Ryan, 4, and Jason, 2-1/2, visit him each Saturday morning, can’t say enough about the program. “It’s made a huge difference in my connection with my sons,” he notes. “My part is to do all I can to better myself and to make the changes I need so that I never come to prison again,” he shares. “This will definitely help me reintegrate back with my family and resume my role as a husband and father when I’m released. I won’t be a stranger, and my children will know me.” He is confident that the program will make for an easier transition when he leaves prison, “so I can concentrate more on my issues with addiction, structure, and routine which keep landing me back in prison and tearing me away from my family.”

Cote says his boys didn’t enjoy coming during normal visiting hours, nor did their mom who would wind up having to chase them around the room as they got antsy because inmates aren’t allowed to get up from their seats. They would get restless and frustrated and they and their mom seldom made it through an entire visit. “Now,” Cote notes, “They ask at least once a day about when they’re coming to the prison to visit. It’s the highlight of their week.”

“Promoting positive relationships is one of the key factors in preparing inmates for successful reentry to their home communities,” notes Corrections Director Ashbel T. Wall II. “We know that offenders who leave our custody with a place to live, a job, and strong family ties have a much higher likelihood of staying out. Programs like this one are a win/win for everyone involved, and we are so pleased that it’s now available in our two male and one female medium facilities, as well as at men’s and women’s Minimum.”

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